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Q & A: Storing antimatter

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
Scientists have said that if antimatter and normal matter come in contact then they destroy each other, creating pure energy. Antimatter has been created in the lab but not in large amount’s (scince they are destroyed on contact with normal matter). Here’s an idea i’ve had for a while. if antimatter particles were created in a vacumed area suspended by magnets (all around it) then it could be created in large amounts. This way normal matter could then be sent into that area creating a pure energy. Will this idea Work?
- Steven (age 14)
A:

Yup, we routinely create antimatter and store it in vacuum chambers, held in place with magnets. Of course the magnetic force on a charged particle is proportional to the velocity of the particle, so these antimatter particles must be moving. We store beams of anti-electrons (positrons) and anti-protons all the time.

You can find some pictures of the antiproton storage ring at Fermilab at https://www.fnal.gov/pub/tevatron/tevatron-accelerator.html.

The only two flaws in what you say are these:

1) "large amounts" I think it’s been said that all the energy stored in the rest mass of all the antimatter that’s ever been created in the high-energy physics laboratories wouldn’t be enough to warm up a cup of coffee. But the kinetic energies are very high for these particles in our accelerators, much, much more than their rest energies.

2) "pure energy" Well, even when matter and antimatter collide at even modest energies, you can get sprays of new particles. Protons colliding with antiprotons, even with rather little kinetic energy (just enough to get them to move together and annihilate) will in most cases give a spray of pions. These will decay, but the decay chain usually involves lots of neutrinos and muons, and the energy of these is hard to harness (for neutrinos, it’s impossible).

Tom


(published on 10/22/2007)

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