Scientists debunk "Angels and Demons" antimatter
May 20, 2009
Editor's note: Fermilab theorist Marcela Carena will give a lecture l about how antimatter is used in "Angels & Demons" and in real-life research at 8 p.m. Thursday in Ramsey Auditorium.
"Angels and Demons," the recently released film version of the Dan Brown thriller, focuses on a plot to destroy the Vatican using a small amount antimatter pilfered from the European particle physics laboratory CERN, the world's largest particle accelerator.
Some of the world's top particle physicists attempted to sort through facts and fiction about antimatter on Tuesday, and comment on their real quest behind CERN -- to unlock secrets about the origins of the universe.
"Antimatter atoms exist, but it is very difficult to make them," Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director-general of CERN, or the European Organization for Nuclear Research, said on Tuesday in a telephone briefing.
Antimatter particles are subatomic particles that are mirror images of matter, added Boris Kayser of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, and chairman of the American Physical Society's Division on Particle Physics.
When the two come together, they annihilate one another, and their mass is released in the form of energy.
In Dan Brown's book, on which the Sony Pictures film was based, a quarter gram of antimatter was thought to be the equivalent of 5,000 tonnes of dynamite, enough to wipe out everything within a half mile or so.
"That number was correct," Kayser said.
But it is not likely to be used in any bomb, they said. "It would take us billions of years to produce the amount which is used in the film," Heuer said.