Physics A-Z: A is for…..



What is Antimatter?

Antimatter is an extension to the concept of the antiparticle, it is shown that ever subatomic particle of matter has a particle that is completely opposite. The concept of antimatter first came into being around the 1880s to describe antigravity in some theories of gravity previously proposed. The term antimatter however was first coined in letters to the journal nature by Arthur Schuster where he propoesed the concept as well as the potential for antimatter solar systems. The modern theory of antimatter however was proposed by Paul Dirac to explain the appearance of antielectrons in Schrodingers equation, these were later discovered. Antimatter particles display charge properties that are opposite to it’s matter counterparts for example the positron, the antimatter equivalent of the electron displays a positive electronic charge as opposed to that of the electron’s negative charge. It is possible to form anti atoms with the subatomic antimatter particles such as in the case of a positron and the antiproton¬† which combined can form an antihydrogen atom. Antimatter in comparison is highly volatile as a result of the tendency for it to annihilate when it comes into contact with matter leading to a burst of energy. The tendency for antimatter to be highly volatile comes from the relative abundance of it compared to matter in the universe, antimatter being less abundant.

It is believed that antimatter and matter were produced in the big bang in equal amounts however very quickly and over time the relative abundances changed. This difference in the amount of antimatter and matter is one of the great mysteries of physics and is one of the key tasks of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN which intends to get answers.

Antimatter in media

Antimatter makes appearances in films, tv and other media and is often portrayed in an incorrect way. One main one to pick up on is in the book ‘Angels and Demons’ by Dan Brown and the subsequent film, for those unsure what happens at CERN antimatter is created and is to be used as a bomb to blow up the Vatican, enter Tom Hanks to save the day. In theory the amount of antimatter involved in this story could be enough to cause a large explosion the inaccuracy comes from the concept that enough can be collected to make a bomb. The amount of antimatter to come out of collisions is very small, to get a gram would take along time indeed therefore, no one needs to worry about antimatter bombs. Again the amount of antimatter producable can be applied to the theory of antimatter propulsion in Star Trek, whereas the amount of energy involved in annihilation can in theory be used to harness for applications such as these the ability to harvest enough is the challenge. However, CERN has been able to obtain antimatter and hold it for up to 15 minutes a feat that has allowed significant analysis to be made in regards to the properties of antimatter and a success to harness it potentially for the future.

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