Scientists capture antimatter
But now antimatter has moved from the realm of science fiction - or more accurately science theory - to science fact. Researchers working on the Alpha experiment at Cern have succeeded in trapping 38 atoms of anti-hydrogen for one sixth of a second.
That may not sound like much of an achievement, but the problem with antimatter is that as soon as it comes into contact with ordinary matter they annihilate each other instantly. Studying such an elusive substance in a laboratory where everything is inevitably made of matter presents a unique challenge.
The researchers at the Alpha experiment have got round this problem by trapping antimatter particles in a series of overlapping magnetic fields. For a brief moment the particles are held in suspended animation.
"Capturing anti-hydrogen is a major breakthrough in antimatter physics" claims Swansea University's Dr Niels Madsen, a co-author on the research paper published in the journal Nature. "Having the anti-atoms trapped will allow for comparisons of matter and antimatter to a level that, until now, would have been considered wishful thinking".
The existence of antimatter was first suggested by the theoretical physicist Paul Dirac in the 1930's.
Working on a theory to combine quantum mechanics with Einstein's special relativity he realised his equations predicted a corresponding antiparticle for every particle in existence - identical in every respect, but with an opposite electrical charge.
It's important because scientists studying the origins of the universe believe that almost equal amounts of matter and antimatter were created in the big bang. The vast majority of these particles were instantly annihilated as matter and antimatter came into contact. The slight discrepancy in favour of matter accounts for all the stuff we see today - every atom in every star, galaxy, planet or cup of coffee in existence.
The problem is that scientists can't explain this discrepancy - exactly why there is any stuff at all left over to make up the universe.
Studying antimatter in the laboratory could shed new light on the problem, and help to explain the fundamental laws of physics. Warp speed ahead.