The Physics Oof Angels and Demons

Dan Browns hugely popular book tells a story of how a secret society threatens to destroy the church through antimatter annihilation. But how much of this stands up to proper physics?

When Dan Brown first wrote Angels and Demons it is highly unlikley he expected the work to have become so popular with everyone wanting a peice of the action, so much so that his book became a movie and thrilled the genral public. However not all of what is written is completely true, as is always the case with such things.

Does Anitmatter Even Exist?

 Although seeminly the realms of star trek this futiristic sounding stuff does actually exist. Antimatter is the exact opposite of matter in every respect other than it’s mass. It has also been producedd by the scientists at CERN who are working on many particle physics experiments to try and determine many things from the origin of the universe to it’s eventual demise. However knowledge of this is rather dissimilar to how it is portrayed in the film. It is common knowledge among the physics community, not a closely guarded secret of which only three people in the world are aware of.

Quarter Of A Gram?

The antimatter which was supposedly created by scientists at CERN is reported to be appoximately quarter of a gram. Although a seemingly insignificant ammount, this is an enormous quantity in comparison to what could actually be created in the world now. As of now CERN’s facilities are capable of producing 10 million antiprotons per minute, which while sounding large is in actual terms, tiny. To produce the quarter gram described in the movie it would take 25 billion years of constant production by their facilities which of course is quite a lot longer than the current age of the universe.

Another limiting factor to this would be the cost, for example in 1999 NASA priced antihydrogen at an approximate cost of $62.5 trillion per gram which would mean just over $15 trillion for the ammount that is used in this movie. (One trillion is equal to 10^12 or 1 with 12 trailing 0s, as an indicator of this ammount there are only 15 countries in the world with a GDP of over $1 trillion.)

Big Explosion?

When matter and antimatter meet they annihilate, which in other words is a huge, lossless conversion of mass into pure energy. This satisfies Einsteins equation E=mc^2 and so is highly significant. If we have our quarter gram of antimatter this will react with a quarter gram of matter so our mass in this case is half a gram. This half a gram gives us 45 trillion Joules of energy, or about half the energy oif the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Easily enough to vaporise the Vatican and hlaf of rome as well. So that part of the story holds true.

What About The Canister?

In the film it is said that the antimatter is held in a small cannister powered by batteries that can hold antimatter for about 24 hours. This is a complete myth. Antimatter storage devices are HUGE and certainly run on a lot more than just batteries, so this part of the story is simply rubbish. If the antimatter storage was disconncted the antimatter would very quickly react with the mattter inside, annihilating the lot. However the fact that it would need to be a vacuum is of course true So not all wrong maybe one mark out of ten for Mr Brown on this front.

To conclude i leave you with two images of an actual antimatter storage device and the one in the film, no prizes for spotting the difference.


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