UWC’s Kenzo Abrahams played a crucial role in setting up a large array of detectors called Miniball, which aided the discovery of vibrating pear-shaped nuclei. Picture: Supplied

Cape Town - UWC’s Kenzo Abrahams is making his mark in the international scientific community. 

He has played a crucial role in setting up a large array of detectors called Miniball. This allowed for the discovery of vibrating pear shaped nuclei.

These nuclei, in turn, allow for searching of electric dipole moments in atoms - or moments when positive and negative charges are separated in atoms. This will help to determine why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe - shedding light on one of the most important issues in modern physics.

Abrahams’ work at CERN (the European Centre for Nuclear Research in Switzerland), together with the Miniball collaboration on vibrating pear shapes in radon nuclei, has been published in the acclaimed Nature Communications (impact factor 12.353).

“I wasn’t expecting this publication,” the Kuils River resident says. 

“I knew my name would be on some papers due to the fact that I helped with the setup of MINIBALL. It is an achievement to have one’s name on a published paper, but the ultimate goal is to finish my PhD and publish an impactful paper myself, as first author, based on the 66Ge research we conducted at CERN in 2017.”

In 2016, students from UWC - including Abrahams, Craig Mehl and Makabata Mokgolobotho - participated in a Coulex ISOLDE workshop at CERN. They were led by Professor Nico Orce from the Department of Physics & Astronomy at UWC. He is also Abrahams’ PhD supervisor.

They performed so well that they opened an unprecedented opportunity for themselves. The following year, Abrahams went back to help set up the new ISOLDE campaign with the Miniball array in preparation of the upcoming scheduled IS569 experiment.

Dr Liam Gaffney, Ernest Rutherford Fellow at the University of Liverpool and one of the leading authors of the paper, supervised and mentored Abrahams while at CERN.

“In 2017, Kenzo came to CERN eager to learn all about the setup, maintenance and operation of the Miniball spectrometer. One year later, he returned as an expert,” says Gaffney.

“Maximum performance of the detectors was critical, and Kenzo’s contribution was crucial in ensuring we could measure the weakest transitions, performing calibrations and careful maintenance at the detectors prior to the experiment.”

Professor Peter Butler, also from the University of Liverpool and leading author of the article, says the work would not have been possible without Abrahams’ help.

“The collaboration is highly appreciative of the contribution of the University of the Western Cape to the experiment, as Kenzo was a key member of the team that set up the Miniball spectrometer that was used for our measurements,” Prof Butler notes.

“These results are relevant to searches for atomic electric dipole moments that test theoretical models trying to refine the Standard Model of Particle Physics and explain the matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe.”

These nuclei, in turn, allow for searching of electric dipole moments in atoms - or moments when positive and negative charges are separated in atoms. This will help to determine why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe - shedding light on one of the most important issues in modern physics.

Matter, Antimatter - What Does It Matter?

According to the Standard Model, every particle of matter has a corresponding antimatter particle: protons vs antiprotons, electrons vs positrons. But there are much, much more particles of matter than of antimatter - and nobody really knows why this violation of charge parity (CP) exists.

So why does it matter if there’s more matter than antimatter?

“Put it this way,” says Prof Orce. “If CP was not violated, every reaction which produces a particle will be accompanied by a reaction which produces its antiparticle at exactly the same rate. That is precisely why finding new sources for this asymmetry is crucial. If not, you could meet your anti-you one day and vanish altogether from earth without leaving any trace but a flash of gamma rays.”

UWC is currently leading major discoveries with high-impact publications and will soon do the same from experiments done at CERN and elsewhere and much of that is a result of Abrahams’ pioneering achievement.

“Our work at UWC is not only about collaborating with internationally recognised institutions, which is great and rewarding, but also to lead science at CERN ourselves,” says Prof Orce.

“Kenzo is an inspiration, not only to his peers but to his country. He’s the kind of student that will surely succeed, and he’s paved the way with tremendous difficulty for others to follow – to make South Africa proud and to let everyone know there’s no impossibles!”

Cape Argus