A childhood fascination led Makoto to study one of the great mysteries of the universe.

Makoto Fujiwara Green College Faculty Member,
Research Scientist at TRIUMF

What matters most to TRIUMF research scientist and UBC’s Green College faculty member Makoto Fujiwara is not matter at all but its opposite, anti-matter. Since his childhood days reading science fiction, Fujiwara has been fascinated by the stuff and has spent the last 12 years studying one of the great mysteries of the universe: why anti-matter, which existed in equal amounts to matter at the time of the Big Bang, has all but disappeared.

After completing his PhD at UBC, Fujiwara took a post-doctoral position at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and helped launch the ALPHA Collaboration, an international group of 40 scientists, including a dozen from BC, experimenting with anti-matter. “Our approach is to create artificial anti-matter and study its properties,” Fujiwara says. “To do these kinds of studies we need to contain anti-matter in a trap.”

That’s easier said than done, considering anti-matter is annihilated on impact with matter. But the team had a major breakthrough last November when it succeeded in confining anti-matter atoms using magnets. “By June we were able to confine anti-matter for 1,000 seconds,” Fujiwara says. “Our ultimate goal is to see whether or not there is any difference between matter and anti-matter.”

It’s a goal that is being pursued in small steps, each the result of accumulation of evidence through trial and error. “Most often, scientific discovery is a painstaking process done gradually, but there are a lot of a-ha moments,” Fujiwara says, adding that he gets a lot of his inspiration from activities at Green College. “You get asked questions in totally different ways.”

Fujiwara’s next step with anti-matter involves experiments with colour. “We’re trying to do a spectroscopy experiment by shooting a beam of microwaves onto the anti-matter to see what colour it emits. Nobody has ever seen the colour of anti-matter. We don’t know if this will solve the mystery of anti-matter, but it’s something that, as a scientist, I feel we must do.”

A year of scientific breakthroughs
UBC scholars working both in BC and around the world have achieved numerous scientific breakthroughs this year in everything from quantum computing to genetic analysis. They made a discovery about a Parkinson’s gene mutation, developed a new drug delivery method for diabetes related vision loss and a invented a new system to reduce wait times for chemotherapy patients, among other discoveries in psychology, astronomy and ecology.

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

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