Antimatter [ Book Review]

I’ll just get straight to the point. As much hype there is about utilizing anti-matter for weapons, energy, and whatever obscure science-fiction application you’ve seen in the media, I don’t ever see it being feasible in my lifetime, my great-great-grandchild’s lifetime, or almost never. That is, unless we create large chunks of anti-carbon (or any element that packs well together, maybe a metal) and confine it in a vacuum chamber utilizing inverse space-time warpage (or anti-gravity, which (currently) doesn’t exist).

If you are lost, I’ll try to explain.

Mass is made up of atoms. Atoms are made up of quarks. Quarks can come in a few forms, but the stable ones are made with up & down quarks (unlike your ever-short lived top & bottom quarks). But that’s not really that important.

However, there is something “unique” about all quarks, so that there can be a “mirror-like” version of it, which can be called an anti-quark. And with anti-quarks, they can form anti-protons and anti-neutrons [Note: you can never truly isolate a quark, and likewise, you will never separate anti-quarks from an anti-proton]. Anti-electrons also exist, but we call them positrons (not protons). Basically any form that exhibits some sort of mass can come in an anti-form. And that’s why we don’t have anti-photons (just out-of-phase ones used in interference and holograms).

So when a proton and an anti-proton come together, they kind of cancel each other out and release mass-less energy (like two cars in driving opposite directions crash into each other, except the cars disappear and the gas fire is more like a mushroom cloud of doom…..).

This is the only (known) way we can convert pure mass into pure energy (as described by E = mc2). If you want to turn a golf ball into a bomb, you must find a similar amount of antimatter for it to touch with. But we can’t!

We can make anti-particles, that is true. It’s only been a couple decades since we created the first anti-proton on Earth, but we can only make them roughly 1 particle at a time. And if you are familiar with Avogadro’s number, it would take us many Earth-lifetimes to accumulate enough antimatter to do anything useful.

And then we have to store it. Since anti-protons react with every-day protons (which are in EVERYTHING), they can’t be stored by traditional means. So the only way to store these obscure particles is through indirect means, of the four fundamental forces of nature. Weak force is essentially nuclear decay, so that’s not possible. As for the strong force, we can’t even create an atom with 200 protons, let alone 120 to achieve the predicted “island of stability.” And I’m still waiting for anti-gravity, which is another rejection. What’s left is…..electromagnetics.

If something has a charge (+ or -), it can rotate in a circular motion within a magnetic field (aka, the Lorentz Force). We can actually confine a small amount of electrons in a vacuum. If the vessel is complicated enough, we can also do the same thing with protons, which are significantly heavier. And since antimatter is the mirror-like image of these particles, we have been able to do the same with the anti-matter forms as well. What’s also cool, is that we can actually cool down anti-protons in an electron cloud. They are mirror images; they just interact without exploding.

But… do you confine a gram of electrons into a small space. The amount of electron-electron repulsion is overwhelming. You could neutralize the electrons by combining them with anti-protons, creating anti-hydrogen, but the Lorentz Force is no longer applicable; they just run into the wall of the vacuum chamber (and we tried, believe me).

And that’s my brief description of why antimatter is just a buzz word. Even I was kind of disappointed after reading the book.

The book itself, Antimatter by Frank Close, is the same author that wrote Neutrinos. And I liked both books. Being a book on particle physics, there isn’t a lot to discuss once the academic descriptions are scraped from the topic. Unlike the topic of Neutrinos, ther is a lot more history and ethic topics that rise up in the work, which helps stretch the book to its 150 page length.

And as you can imagine, it also talks about …..(….wait for it….)….the universe!

Didn’t see that one coming, now did you!

Neutrinos may hold the key to why we only have matter (and not anti-matter). Physicists believe that during the big bang, there was an equal amount of matter and anti-matter. But since we don’t see any forms of anti-matter in the universe, we must make up theories why! The current “theory” involves majorons, but I’ll call them superneutrinos for kicks.

The big bang theory called for a very short period of “exotic particle” interaction, which involved unique transformations and particle decay. The unique thing about superneutrinos is that when they are created, they only come into existence as one type of particle. There is no particle-antiparticle formation, just a coin flip. And the odds there being an equal number heads and tails is zero, so the scale will be slightly lopsided in one random direction. Once the “coins have been flipped” and the universe has cooled enough to stabilize, allowing the head particles to cancel out the tail particles, there will be some left over; the “few” extra pieces to a LEGO set. And those extra pieces are what we call matter today.

If anything, I wish it went into a bit more detail on the many weird ways one creates an anti-particle (unless, there really aren’t that many ways to do it). The one thing that I wish they talked about more was on “space.” The physical nothingness that supposedly is swarming with particle-antiparticle creations and annihilations at the sub-atomic scale. You know, the reason why we have Hawking radiation!

Overall, a good read. I wouldn’t say its Mom-proof, but easily accessible for someone with a light chemistry knowledge (knowing physics II will definitely help with the “confinement” visualization).

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