How long do antiparticles live in gummy bears?

2015-01-07 – News from the Physik-Department

Gelatin is used in the pharmaceutical industry to encapsulate active agents. It protects against oxidation and overly quick release. Tiny pores in the material have a significant influence on this, yet they are difficult to investigate. In experiments on gummy bears, researchers at Physik-Department of TUM have now transferred a methodology to determine the free volume of gelatin preparations.

Gummy bear on the experimental set-up
Gummy bear on the experimental set-up. To prevent color influences, the researchers used red gummy bears only. – Photo: Wenzel Schürmann / TUM

Custom-tailored gelatin preparations are widely used in the pharmaceutical industry. Medications that do not taste good can be packed into gelatin capsules, making them easier to swallow. Gelatin also protects sensitive active agents from oxidation. Often the goal is to release the medication gradually. In these cases slowly dissolving gelatin is used.

Gummy bear used for the experiment
One of the gummy bears used for the experiment. – Photo: Wenzel Schürmann / TUM
Gummy bear fixated on the experimental set-up
The experimental set-up with a fixated gummy bear. – Photo: Wenzel Schürmann / TUM

Nanopores in the material play a significant role in all of these applications. “The larger the free volume, the easier it is for oxygen to penetrate it and harm the medication, but also the less brittle the gelatin,” says PD Dr. Christoph Hugenschmidt, a physicist at TU München.

However, characterizing the size and distribution of these free spaces in the unordered biopolymer is difficult. A methodology adapted by the Garching physicists Christoph Hugenschmidt and Hubert Ceeh provides relief. “Using positrons as highly mobile probes, the volume of the nanopores can be determined, especially also in unordered systems like netted gelatins,” says Christoph Hugenschmidt.

Positrons are the antiparticles corresponding to electrons. They can be produced in the laboratory in small quantities, as in this experiment, or in large volumes at the Heinz Maier Leibnitz Research Neutron Source (FRM II) of the TU München. If a positron encounters an electron they briefly form an exotic particle, the so-called positronium. Shortly after it annihilates to a flash of light.

To model gelatin capsules that slowly dissolve in the stomach, the scientists bombarded red gummy bears in various drying stages with positrons. Their measurements showed, that in dry gummy bears the positroniums survive only 1.2 nanoseconds on average while in soaked gummy bears it takes 1.9 nanoseconds before they are annihilated. From the lifetime of the positroniums the scientists can deduce the number and size of nanopores in the material.

Andrea Voit (FRM II) / Andreas Battenberg / Dr. Johannes Wiedersich


The Free Volume in Dried and H:sub:2O-Loaded Biopolymers Studied by Positron Lifetime Measurements
Christoph Hugenschmidt, Hubert Ceeh


PD Dr. Christoph Hugenschmidt
Technische Universität München
Lichtenbergstr. 1,
85748 Garching, Germany
Tel.: +49 89 289-14609

Condensed Matter

When atoms interact things can get interesting. Fundamental research on the underlying properties of materials and nanostructures and exploration of the potential they provide for applications.

Nuclei, Particles, Astrophysics

A journey of discovery to understanding our world at the subatomic scale, from the nuclei inside atoms down to the most elementary building blocks of matter. Are you ready for the adventure?


Biological systems, from proteins to living cells and organisms, obey physical principles. Our research groups in biophysics shape one of Germany's largest scientific clusters in this area.