Physics undergraduate wins poster award at statewide conference

Baravok honored for her research in suitable methods for antimatter containment

Monday, May 20, 2024 • Greg Pederson :

Marharyta Baravok with her award-winning poster at Lamar Undergraduate Research EXPO 2024. Photo courtesy of Maharyta Baravok.

An undergraduate student in physics at The University of Texas at Arlington recently earned an award for her research in antimatter containment at a statewide conference.

Marharyta Baravok received the best STEM poster presentation award at the Lamar Undergraduate Research EXPO 2024, held April 18-19 at Lamar University in Beaumont. The event serves as a platform for showcasing the research of undergraduate scholars from diverse academic disciplines and draws students from around Texas.

“My poster received much attention from the judges and Dr. Cristian Bahrim, the main organizer of the event,” Baravok said. “Therefore, I had anticipated that I might receive an award, but nonetheless was very excited and grateful to have our work recognized.”

Baravok conducts undergraduate research in the lab of Ali Koymen, UTA professor of physics. Koymen’s group studies condensed matter physics, a field which explores the macroscopic and microscopic properties of matter. Baravok’s award-winning poster is titled “Antimatter Containment Chamber: Measurements and Technology.”

“This award is important for Marharyta because it shows her that she is good in research, and hopefully she will go on and continue doing research in graduate school and get her Ph.D.,” Koymen said.

The project focuses on diamagnetic levitation as a means to achieve antimatter containment. Antimatter is the same as ordinary matter, but it has the opposite electric charge. Antimatter is rare in the universe, but it has been produced in small quantities using ultra-high-speed collisions at huge particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, located outside Geneva.

When matter and antimatter meet they eliminate, or annihilate, each other, releasing energy. Because antimatter annihilates in a flash of energy when it interacts with regular matter, storing it presents a challenge. Despite its current practical unsustainability, antimatter is of interest for its potential propulsion and energy applications. Engineers think that antimatter-powered spacecraft might be an efficient way to explore the universe.

Diamagnetic materials are those which contain no unpaired electrons and are not attracted to a magnetic field. Forces created by diamagnetism are very weak, but in certain arranged situations, the influence of diamagnetic materials can create startling effects, such as levitation.

Baravok’s project is based on previous research by Koymen and James Rejcek, UTA alumnus and former UTA adjunct professor of physics. They, along with professor of physics Alex Weiss and professor emeritus John Fry, published a paper in the November 2003 edition of Radiation Physics and Chemistry which examined the current approaches to antimatter containment and discussed possible alternatives, in particular a solid-state containment system.

Baravok and her colleagues studied diamagnetic levitation to examine its suitability for antimatter containment. They used particles of graphite particles —a highly diamagnetic material— in a lab setting to test different configurations of magnetic traps.

The team found that the concept is functional but scaling it for practical applications is problematic. They hope to build a chamber which will meet the scaling requirements and provide stability.

“Marharyta is very motivated and interested in learning new physics through doing research,” Koymen said. “She has a real aptitude in experimental physics. She finds practical solutions to the problems we are facing in the lab. Also, she is very good with her hands and can build experimental platforms with ease.”

Kellen Middleton gave an oral presentation on the project's theoretical aspects. Photo courtesy of Maharyta Baravok.

Kellen Middleton, a UTA physics undergraduate who collaborated on the project with Baravok, also attended the Lamar EXPO and gave an oral presentation about the theoretical aspects of the project.

Baravok started at UTA as an aerospace engineer major but during her freshman year, she took a first-year physics class from Barry Spurlock, associate professor of instruction. The course spurred an interest in physics for her, and Spurlock told her about the research opportunities available in the department. Baravok soon decided to add physics as a second major.

“So far, I've been happy and fascinated with both of the majors and feel it’s quite a fortunate combination,” she said. “The knowledge from one supplements the other.”


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