Antimatter in Real Life

Antimatter in Real Life

Selene Rubino

Theoretical physicist lectures at MV auditorium on the science behind "Angels and Demons"

Deep under the city of Geneva, Switzerland, a giant magnetic ring accelerates subatomic particles to incredible speeds— a multi-billion dollar mad scientist lab formed for the exploration of one thing: antimatter.

On Oct. 21, Dr. Charles Young walked straight out of a Dan Brown novel to give a presentation on the science behind "Angels and Demons". The presentation mixed equal parts humor and wonder to give an insider’s glimpse at the world of theoretical physics.  

Young began the night describing the Large Hadron Collider (LHC),
the magnetic ring mentioned above. The LHC is used to observe collisions between protons, which may then produce quarks,

 leptons, antimatter, and all sorts of so-called exotic particles. The size of the LHC alone is staggering: as long as a football field, weighs 2000 tons and gathers 64 terabytes of data—per second.  

Equally striking are the uses to which it’s put. The explosive properties of antimatter, which the LHC creates in very small quantities, were thrilling enough for Dan Brown to describe in his best-seller "Angels and Demons," that journeys with Robert Langdon, a fictional Harvard symbologist who uncovers a secret society and their plot to destroy Vatican City using destructive antimatter. Antimatter was also the subject of a recent controversy regarding the safety of the LHC. One of the highly improbable side effects of using the LHC is the creation of a miniature black hole. 

But the lecture wasn’t all fun and games. Young gave out various homework assignments to the audience, urging them to study not just the properties of thermochemical calories, but also the history of Nagasaki.

Young works as a physicist for the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), but has recently collaborated with the organization that runs the LHC. Currently, he works on computations for the detector, but in a few weeks the scientists will switch to analyzing gathered data.


"On these huge experiments everyone sort of has to find a niche for himself," Young said. "So to keep my life interesting, I don’t want to stay in the same niche for many years."  His son graduated from MVHS a few years ago, but Young kept in touch with chemistry teacher Kavita Gupta, who invited him to give the lecture.   "I have been taking Chem[istry] Honors students to SLAC for tours and he was kind enough to come and do the touring," Gupta said. "In the past couple of years we’ve seen each other a couple times because we share a common gym. One day he asked ‘Do you remember me’ and I said ‘Sure!’"

Young’s insider experience livened up the numbers involved in physics. For instance, Tom Hanks once stopped by the LHC, in order to meet the actual scientists behind the plot of "Angels and Demons". Hanks, who plays Robert Langdon in the movie adaptation, asked how much all the antimatter that LHC could potentially produce would heat up his coffee cup (answer: 1ºC per hour).

Young discussed theories such as CP violation and dark matter in layman’s terms, making the world of high science accessible to high school students.  
"I thought it was interesting," senior Christopher Lin said. "Especially coming from a person who actually works [with the LHC]." 

By the end of the evening a crowd of students and parents surrounded Young to ask additional questions on life, the universe, and everything.