Why is there matter in the universe, but hardly any antimatter? Researchers are pursuing this question at the Belle II experiment in Japan. In the particle accelerator SuperKEKB, matter (electrons) and antimatter (positrons) are brought into collision. Among the particles produced as a result, the researchers are searching for indications that could explain the surplus of matter.
According to present-day knowledge, this imbalance came to be because a fundamental symmetry property of particles was violated. The physicists hope for new insights from B mesons, with which they already have been able to provide evidence for a violation of this symmetry. This type of particle is created together with its antiparticle when electrons and their antiparticles, positrons, crash into each other.
The SuperKEKB accelerator serves as a "factory" for B mesons. B mesons only live a short time; after the tiniest fractions of a second, they decay into other particles. These decay tracks are recorded by the Belle II detector and analyzed. So that the differences in the decay patterns of the B mesons and their antiparticles can be seen, the detector must exactly measure the locations where they decay. That's why, in the innermost area of Belle II, there sits a high-resolution pixel vertex detector – a type of precision camera – that the MPP took a leading role in developing.
Ready for future measurements
Starting in 2011, the research plant was completely overhauld too improve its physics measurements. In the future, about 750 meson pairs will be produced, i.e. 30 times the production rate achieved by the KEKB predecessor. In parallel, also the former Belle detector was modernized to the new version Belle II. The first measure run started in March 2019.
After the Big Bang there came into being heavy particles of matter and antimatter that have yet to be identified. These primordial particles decayed into the particles and antiparticles familiar today: quarks and antiquarks, electrons and postrons, muons and antimuons, and so on.
If a particle and its corresponding antiparticle meet, they transform themselves into energy; they mutually annihilate each other. Therefore no material should have been able to form in the universe – at least not permanently.
Admittedly, atoms, molecules, stars, planets, and galaxies provide us with conclusive evidence for the existence of matter. Physicists suspect that the heavy primordial particles decayed differently: Somewhat more matter particles formed than antimatter particles – that is, more quarks than antiquarks, more electrons than positrons, and so on. As matter and antimatter mutually annihilate each other, all that remained in the universe was the small excess of matter.