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A Matter of Antimatter

We are a major step closer to having insanely powerful energy sources thanks to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. They’ve contained antimatter! I know! Calm down and collect yourself; we are far away from being able to use it. But it’s still awesome!
I like to think of antimatter as the Bizarro version of matter. It’s like matter, but not like it at the same time. As you know, a normal proton is positively charged and an electron is negatively charged. In antimatter, it is reversed. An antiproton is negative and an antielectron, called a positron, is positive.
Eight years ago, CERN began creating large numbers of antihydrogen during an experiment named ATRAP. The problem being that they couldn’t keep the antiatoms from contacting the containment walls and thus reacting. Now, in the ALPHA experiments, CERN has successfully trapped antihydrogen at 9 degrees Kelvin (-443.47 degrees Fahrenheit, -264.15 degrees Celsius) in a magnetic field, allowing them to really get their hands dirty. Once the antihydrogen were trapped, which lasted less than a second, they were released and smashed into hydrogen, annihilating each other. By using silicon sensors to witness the reaction, we know to congratulate them.

To simplify that, if an antiatom touches stuff, everything basically disappears into light and energy. Now they’ve figured out a way for antiatoms to not touch stuff.

Buh Miff, wif shuf wheh cungrifulafe fim?

Don’t talk with food in your mouth. It’s rude.

Sorry. But Matt, why should we congratulate them?

Well, for one, CERN has been working towards this in a variety of experiments since 1995 and a ton of hyper-brainiacs have combined their efforts to make a major step forward in one of the largest physics quandaries ever. Scientists have more-or-less scratched their heads when it comes to antimatter. Now, for the first time, they’ll be able to study it.

It’s believed that the Big Bang produced equal parts antimatter as it did matter, but for some zany reason, the universe seems to have said, “to hell with antimatter.” No one really knows why. Maybe it disappeared. Maybe we can’t find it. Maybe there exists a separate universe made up of antimatter that can’t be in contact with ours. There are a ton of ideas floating around out there. Explore on Google and see what you can find. Or Bing. Whatever. I don’t care. Fuck it. Stroll on over to the site that Jeeves built and ask away!

For two, if we could harness this artificially made antimatter, or find and collect natural antimatter, the resulting reaction with matter would yield super-nuclear power. Also, using antihydrogen as fuel is extremely low in weight, as opposed to regular nuclear power, which is extremely high in weight. The resulting possibilities are incredibly exciting!

I’ve made a list of great ideas for you.


This is what science fiction has been preparing us for: rip-your-face-off-fast space travel. I hope to hop on a ship and haul ass to Gliese 581 g, leaving behind all the racists, violence, tea partiers, polluters, terrorists, people who don’t say “thank you” when you hold a door open for them, Glee, AT&T, bad parkers, my crazy neighbor, my other neighbor’s dogs, my other, other neighbor’s morning time techno sessions, clearly too small ketchup packets, toilet paper facing the wrong direction, and people with a sexually transmitted disease.

If you are a great person and have an STD, my apologies for leaving you behind. You not coming is a safety measure that should be taken for the sake of Gliese 581 g. That makes you a hero.

We could build the lives we’ve always wanted on G581 g. Peace and love and shit. It may be idealistic, but go ahead, call me a dreamer. I’m not the only one. I know some guy sang about that. I think his band’s music is on iTunes.

2. Hoverboards

I’m not a scientist, but I am constantly angry that with every new step in technology we still don’t get hoverboards. THIS HAS TO COME NEXT! You hear me, lab coats?

3. Not a bomb. Please, not a bomb.

Seriously, please don’t make a bomb out of this.

4. Laser guns

I am cool with a laser gun, though.

5. Magic tricks

By annihilating matter, things will really disappear. No more trap doors or mirrors. If those tigers act up again, poof, gone.


6. The most advanced Pop Rocks Candy ever made.

Hopefully the radiation wouldn’t kill us too quickly.

[Any antimatter and ALPHA knowledge my nerdy brain didn’t already know was found via CERN, Gizmodo, Wikipedia, and ZME Science.]

[Images via ZME Science and Skate and Annoy]

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center image: Berkeley Lab

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  1. It’s truly very complex in this busy life to listen news on TV, thus I simply use web for that reason, and obtain the newest information.

  2. Matthew Burnside says:

    @Chris C. Some measures of safety must be forgone for measures of awesome. Thanks.

    @Hardwick Thank you very much.

    @poshboy Good point. I’ll remember that the next time Kelvin comes in up in conversation.

    @Deltus I didn’t think of that. It makes sense. Those pop rocks are going to be incredible! You saw it here first. The candy that will swoon the future’s rave scene.

  3. Deltus says:

    Just a small point of contention: the radiation produced by a particle and antiparticle annihilating is non-ionizing (photonic, if my understanding is correct). So, it wouldn’t kill us like radiation from a nuclear bomb going off would. Blind us, yes, but not kill us.

  4. Xenagogue says:

    I can’t disagree more. Many of the things I learned in Sunday school were wrong. Outdated ideas for a world long gone by.

    Simply stating “they fail to acknowledge the fact” doesn’t a make your statements any more factual. I’m not going to attack your beliefs. I just don’t think putting your fingers in your ears and yelling “the earth is flat and is the center of the solar system!” is going to work for you in this day and age.

    The nature of existence will always be a mystery. There will always be a [Before What We Know] for religion to fill in. There’s no need to fear new thoughts, just because they may disagree with some old thinking.

    Embrace science. Let it be a building block for your faith, not a wrecking ball.

    This is a brilliant development, and one that has the potential to launch humankind into a whole new era of discovery.

    “miracles are not contrary to nature, but contrary to what we know of nature.” – Saint Augustine

  5. Wesley Marshall says:

    Regardless, it’s still a big break through.

  6. poshboy says:

    Since 1968 the unit is called kelvin, not degree Kelvin. Pedantic, I know, but it bugs me somehow.

  7. Amanda says:

    I can’t help but let out a shriek of maniacal laughter when I see scientific breakthroughs like this. I can’t wait to be a terrific evil overlord.

    *shifty eyes- I mean, yeah! Hoverboards! Awesome!!!!!!

  8. soru says:

    @booradley – Saying “God did it, stop asking questions,” does the universe a disservice. It deserves better than that. It should be looked upon with awe and wonder, studied, figured out, and inspire ever more amazing creations by humanity. Writing off scientists as “those atheists” with a shrug may as well be you closing the door on your own understanding of the world you live in. If you believe it was created by someone, and He made it as intricate and complex as this, and gave us the brains to understand it, wouldn’t He want you to?

  9. booradley says:

    I know the latter half of this post is mostly in jest, but I have to point out a couple of things:

    First, hoverboards are highly unlikely, because of the fact that skateboards rely on friction and deceleration for balance. Imagine how utterly impossible it would be to balance on an object that possesses a quality of anti-friction (similar to a magnet against another magnet pole-to-pole). Every move you make is destined to become a complete disaster.

    Second, I love the *idea* of Warp Drive, but seriously. In reality, what with “wisdom” of crowds and such, this is more akin to Warp Disaster.

    What’s with all the hype about anti-matter, anyway? Weren’t we taught enough in Sunday-school (or philosophy class) to realise that something and nothing (good and evil) can’t (ultimately) co-exist? I’m all for the world’s hyper-braniac atheists to keep studying every increasingly miniscule quasi-particles existing in each ever-so-ephemeral heyday (existences prolonged by our increasingly high-resolution cameras, high-powered microscopes, and deeply-speculating professors), but they still haven’t figured out the nature of existence, mostly because they fail to acknowledge the fact that this was all DESIGNED. By a CREATOR.

    OF COURSE the universe said “to hell with anti-matter”. The job’s already been done. Why are we still trying to capture it with math? Answer: because we’re a damned curious human race.

    To him to has an ear, may he listen.

  10. Chris Hardwick says:

    Matt, I love your formula. I am of the belief that with reality television, when we observe the experiment we DESTROY the experiment. But watching white trashy people throw drinks in each others’ faces on a boat is a pretty great destruction to witness.

    Nice post, Burnside!

  11. Chris C. says:

    You had me cracking up at the laser comment. Well done!

  12. Matthew Burnside says:

    @Matt Hate to burst your bubble, but you realize I wrote this and not Hardwick, right? I’m sure he appreciates the equation though. Math IS the highest form of flattery after all.

  13. Matt says:

    This totally reminds me of a joke you made on Shipmates. Something about “Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Date”. I almost peed myself when I heard that. To celebrate the antimatter trapping I came up with this extremely ludicrous expression:

    The integral of exp(-matter^2) * d(Chris) from 0 to infinitely funny = Impossibly Awesome!

    (OK, cheesy reference here.)

  14. Sarah Graves says:

    Warp drive would be a step to a better life for all.

  15. Mark Donohue says:

    Ah finally…..