Nuclear Physicist, Kenzo Abrahams, Part of Breakthrough Scientific Discovery

Kenzo standing next to the MINIBALL detectors

When Kenzo Abrahams started doing his PhD in Nuclear Physics, he had no idea that he would work at the most prestigious scientific facility in the world. He also did not know that he would be part of an internationally celebrated scientific breakthrough.

Kenzo, who works for Switzerland’s CERN, has been part of a team that made the breakthrough scientific discovery of vibrating pear-shaped nuclei. These nuclei will help the search for electric dipole moments in atoms and answer the question of why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe. Kenzo was instrumental in setting up a large array of detectors called MINIBALL which made it possible to discover the nuclei.  If you don’t understand what this means, read further.




A Simple Explanation of Vibrating Pear-Shaped Nuclei

Basically, the universe is made up of matter and anti-matter. If matter comes into contact with anti-matter, they will simply cancel each other out and disappear. You are made up of matter. If you should meet a version of yourself that is made up of anti-matter, and you shook hands, you would both explode and disappear. You would basically cancel each other out.

According to the ‘standard scientific model’, the amount of matter in the universe should be equal to the amount of anti-matter. There is however far more matter in the universe than anti-matter, and scientists don’t understand why. In fact, we exist because there is more matter. If there were equal amounts of matter and anti-matter, they would simply collide against each other and cancel each other out, which means that we would not exist. Everything would cancel each other out.

The first step to understanding why there is more matter, is to discover these ‘vibrating pear-shaped nuclei’, which they did. These nuclei are too small and cannot be ‘seen’ or ‘heard’. Kenzo basically works on the detectors that help us ‘see’ and ‘hear’ the nuclei.  Let us explain it by using the human body.

Imagine that your heart was as small as the nuclei. Scientists would know that the heart exists because something is pumping blood through the body, making it possible for the body to exist. Before they can be sure that the heart exists, they would first need to prove that it exists, and that is where the detectors come in. These detectors would be able to pick up the sound of the heartbeat and that is how we would discover the existence of a heart. We would then be able to explain why the body exists. The detectors would also be able to measure the size and shape of the heart, which allows scientists to formulate theories on how the heart pumps blood through the body. We are now able to see and hear the heart, and this will help explain why the body exists and how it functions. Simply put, the MINIBALL detectors detects the sound of the nuclei, measures its size and shape, and helps explain why the universe exists and how it functions.

The benefits of this discovery are vast. If we could figure out how the universe came into existence, we can also learn more about how human beings came into existence and will lead to medical breakthroughs that could help save lives. It could also help us discover new ways to help the environment and save the planet. It could even lead to the building of machines that can travel to different galaxies in a blink of an eye, and even to other universes.

The Story of Kenzo

The University of the Western Cape’s Kenzo originally studied Computer Science, which he has a Masters degree in, but he is also an A level quantum mechanics and nuclear physics student. Kenzo is described by his UWC physics professor and supervisor, Nico Orce, as a brilliant mathematician and the most logical student he has ever taught.

Kenzo’s journey to working for CERN began in 2016 when he was part of a group of UWC students participating in a CERN study. The scientists at CERN were so impressed with Kenzo that they asked him to come and help them set up MINIBALL. This, of course, led to him being part of the discovery of the pear-shaped nuclei and he was listed as an author on the published paper that outlines the discovery. The paper was published in the journal, Nature Communications, and is called, ‘The Observation of Vibrating Pear-Shapes in Radon Nuclei’.




Kenzo’s CERN supervisor and one of the leading authors of the paper, Liam Gaffney, says that after a year on the project, Kenzo can now be classified as an expert on the MINIBALL spectrometer (the detectors).

The lead author of the paper, Professor Peter Butler, also has nothing but praise for Kenzo and says that the work would not have been possible without his help. “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,” said Professor Butler.

Kenzo’s proud brother describes him as an extremely humble person and it shows. Kenzo says that he did not expect to have his name included on the publication because he considers himself to be just one of many that helped setup MINIBALL.  He does however consider it to be a huge achievement and is very thankful. He is currently focused on his own research and hopes to publish a paper that will help lead to even more scientific breakthroughs.

Of his student, Prof Orce says the following: “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!”

Source(s): Edited from an article written by Nicklaus Kruger for the University of the Western Cape, other

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