Sunday, May 10, 2009

How many anti-protons does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Reading in my favorite magazine, Scientific American, I saw an inevitable confluence: Star Trek + Fermilab. As I'm sure you know, there's a new star trek movie coming out. Anyone who has ever watched Star Trek knows that they talk a lot about anti-matter. Anti-matter powers the Enterprise's warp drive, as well as provides the oomph behind the "photon torpedoes." Anti-matter is also used at Fermilab: they smash protons and anti-protons together. So Fermilab has an anti-matter factory.

A guy named Lawrence Krauss wrote The Physics of Star Trek, which I have never read, but assumed was a silly book about how everything you see in Star Trek is possible and "some day, you'll be 'beaming' back and forth to the beach on your own personal transporter!'" Scientific American interviewed him about the new movie, and I found him to be refreshingly frank, and apparently brutally honest, most of the time saying variations on "it's an interesting idea, but ain't gonna happen." For example, the above-mentioned confluence:

Of course, it's hard to create antimatter, much less carry it around. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to produce antimatter. If we used the antimatter-making device at Fermilab just outside Chicago, the energy cost would be many thousands of times the gross national product of the U.S. to produce enough antimatter to light up a lightbulb.

That's an expensive lightbulb. Although, the way the economy is heading, China can probably order a few dozen before too long.

PS: information about that incredible image of antimatter can be found here

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This paper came out this month that tells a detailed story of the mass boson by the American (GHK) team back in the 60’s. Will likely tick off a few folks in EU but first real account that compares all Phys Rev Letter papers from 1964.

Journal reference: IJMPA 24, 2601 (2009)
DOI: 10.1142/S0217751X09045431
Report number: BROWN-HET-1555
Cite as: arXiv:0907.3466v1 [physics.hist-ph]