How the World’s Most Expensive Substance is Made!

Credit: Aldebaran S/ unsplash

It’s the most expensive substance on Earth, costing quadrillions of dollars for a single gram. It’s also likely the most explosive substance on the planet. Michael Doser — who works in the only factory making it — describes this reaction as “probably the most violent process you can think of because the full mass of the object disappears and transforms into energy”. So what is it? Antimatter..

What is Antimatter?

You can think of it as matter’s evil twin. Professor Doser actually thinks matter might be the evil half of this equation, with antimatter being the “good guy”. But the point is: antimatter is the opposite of matter. It’s exactly the same as matter, except all the electrical charges of its component parts are reversed. This is why it’s so explosive.

When a bit of matter comes into contact with its evil antimatter twin, they cancel each other out, releasing all the energy stored inside them.”[When] a proton and antiproton annihilate each other, their mass completely disappears,” Professor Doser says.”So this is by far the most energetic process that you can think of.”By converting all their mass into energy, you’re getting more bang for your buck with an antimatter explosion. “In the case of a chemical reaction, you’re transforming only about a millionth of the mass of the object of the molecule into energy,” Professor Doser says. Thankfully, outside the realms of science fiction, we won’t see antimatter destroying cities anytime soon.

How Is Antimatter Made? 

To create antimatter you just need to create matter. Simple? Nope. Expensive? You bet. The recipe they use at CERN’s Antimatter Factory to achieve this feat is:

  1. Take a proton (a charged subatomic particle)
  2. Speed it up enormously
  3. Crash it into an iridium block.

One in every million collisions creates a proton-antiproton pair. The basic principle is that so much energy is concentrated at a single point that it creates mass — the mass of matter. But whenever this happens — when loads of energy get concentrated and turned into the mass of matter — antimatter is born too .“Antimatter appears every single time matter appears,” Professor Doser says. The cost of creating antimatter like this makes it the world’s most expensive substance.

Why Make It?

Ah yes, the multi-million dollar question. There are a few answers. The first is that the technology developed in CERN’s Antimatter Factory has been applied in medical imaging tools called PET scanners. The second is that CERN is interested in fundamental research — understanding things without knowing how this knowledge could be applied.

The Universe Probably Shouldn’t Exist

At the moment of the Big Bang, all the energy of the Universe was concentrated and exploded. “We actually expect that the whole Universe — since there was lots of energy around at the moment of the Big Bang — should consist of equal amounts of matter and antimatter,” Professor Doser says. “The big surprise is that it doesn’t. “There is no antimatter left in the Universe from the Big Bang that we’re aware of, he says. Which is fortunate. If the Big Bang led to equal parts matter and antimatter forming, these probably would have then bumped into each other, obliterated one another, and then presumably exploded again.

So, what’s their working theory as to why our evil antimatter twins didn’t just cancel everything out, long ago? “The best explanation that we have found up to now is to say that there’s a slight difference in the properties of particles and antiparticles,” Professor Doser says. This means that although equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have formed, they weren’t quite equal, he adds. “One particle is left over out of a billion, and this one particle out of a billion is everything we see in the Universe. All the galaxies, the clusters of galaxies, the stars, the planets, us. Unraveling this cosmic conundrum is what the researchers at CERN’s Antimatter Factory are trying to do. But so far, this mysterious anti-stuff remains elusive. The team hasn’t found any other meaningful differences between matter and antimatter.

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Source: ABCnet


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