Matter & Energy

Matter is composed of atoms or groups of atoms called molecules. The arrangement of particles in a material depends on the physical state of the substance. In a solid, particles form a compact structure that resists flow. Particles in a liquid have more energy than those in a solid. They can flow past one another, but they remain close. Particles in a gas have the most energy. They move rapidly and are separated from one another by relatively large distances.


Antimatter, matter composed of elementary particles that are, in a special sense, mirror images of the particles that make up ordinary matter as it is known on earth. Antiparticles have the same mass as their corresponding particles but have opposite electric charges or other properties related to electromagnetism. For example, the antimatter electron, or positron, has opposite electric charge and magnetic moment (a property that determines how it behaves in a magnetic field), but is identical in all other respects to the electron. The antimatter equivalent of the chargeless neutron, on the other hand, differs in having a magnetic moment of opposite sign (magnetic moment is another electromagnetic property). In all of the other parameters involved in the dynamical properties of elementary particles, such as mass, spin, and partial decay, antiparticles are identical with their corresponding particles.

The existence of antiparticles was first proposed by the British physicist Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac, arising from his attempt to apply the techniques of relativistic mechanics (see Relativity) to quantum theory. In 1928 he developed the concept of a positively charged electron but its actual existence was established experimentally in 1932. The existence of other antiparticles was presumed but not confirmed until 1955, when antiprotons and antineutrons were observed in particle accelerators. Since then, the full range of antiparticles has been observed or indicated. Antimatter atoms were created for the first time in September 1995 at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Positrons were combined with antimatter protons to produce antimatter hydrogen atoms. These atoms of antimatter exist only for forty-billionths of a second, but physicists hope future experiments will determine what differences there are between normal hydrogen and its antimatter counterpart.

A profound problem for particle physics and for cosmology in general is the apparent scarcity of antiparticles in the universe. Their nonexistence, except momentarily, on earth is understandable, because particles and antiparticles are mutually annihilated with a great release of energy when they meet. Distant galaxies could possibly be made of antimatter, but no direct method of confirmation exists. Most of what is known about the far universe arrives in the form of photons, which are identical with their antiparticles and thus reveal little about the nature of their sources. The prevailing opinion, however, is that the universe consists overwhelmingly of “ordinary” matter, and explanations for this have been proposed by recent cosmological theory.