Simon Fraser University

Mike Hayden Receives John C. Polanyi Award

Feb 4, 2014

Professor Mike Hayden and his colleagues from Calgary, TRIUMF, UBC, and York are the recipients of the 2013 NSERC John C. Polanyi Award for a recent outstanding advance in the natural sciences or engineering. Professor Hayden and his colleagues are part of the CERN-based ALPHA Collaboration, which has recently had a string of significant research accomplishments in the area of antihydrogen physics. In 2010 they succeeded in trapping cold antihydrogen atoms in a magnetic trap. By 2011 they were able to hold on to these atoms for as long as 15 minutes, and then in 2012 they announced the first-ever measurement of an anti-atomic transition frequency. This measurement, which involved microwave transitions between ground-state hyperfine-levels, was reported in a paper for which Professor Hayden was the lead author and is the focus of PhD student Mohammad Ashkezari’s thesis.

The motivation for this research is to perform precision comparisons between the hydrogen atom and its antimatter counterpart, the antihydrogen atom (a bound state of an antiproton and a positron). Spectroscopic comparisons between matter and antimatter systems can yield direct tests of CPT (charge conjugation, parity, and time-reversal symmetry), which is believed to be an exact symmetry of Nature. They even confront the framework of quantum field theories like the Standard Model of particle physics, as well as fundamental concepts like spacetime and locality.

The work done by Professor Hayden and his colleagues over the last several year sets the stage for future antihydrogen spectroscopy experiments, ranging from precision measurements of the ground-state hyperfine splitting (analogous to the 21-cm line used by radioastronomers) to the interval between the 1s and 2s positronic states (a two-photon transition). At the moment the team is in the process of commissioning a brand new antihydrogen trapping apparatus that is designed to facilitate these experiments.

The award received by Hayden and his colleagues was conferred upon them by Governor General David Johnston during a ceremony held at Rideau Hall. It celebrates the research excellence exemplified by Canadian Nobel Laureate John C. Polanyi, as well as the outstanding contributions that Dr. Polanyi has made to science and society.