Engineer: “Why has the captain ordered self-destruct?”
Scotty: “I would say, lass, because he thinks…he hopes…that when we go up, we’ll take the intruder with us.”
Engineer: “Will we?”
Scotty: “When that much matter and anti-matter come together, oh yes, we will indeed!”
~ Star Trek
We all interact with matter every day of our lives. Indeed, we are all made of matter. But what of anti-matter? How can the opposite of matter even exist? Scientists not only affirm its existence, but experiment with it as well, despite it being a possible trigger to our destruction.
Does Anti-Matter Exist?
We all remember how, on the original Star Trek television series, engineer Scotty was always pulling his hair out worrying about the starship’s engines. Those fictional engines ran on a ‘matter and anti-matter’ mix, which gave the futuristic craft enough propulsion to whiz it to other star systems without the need for putting the crew into cold storage. But does anti-matter really exist?
The answer is yes, absolutely. It exists. In fact, scientists create it in their laboratories all the time. But it generally does not last. And that’s the real trick. When you makes anti-matter, you need to do things with it – and quickly. First of all, you need to keep it from touching anything else. If you make an anti-electron, and it touches a regular electron, then it annihilates into a very high-energy photon, so it has to be trapped and kept away from everything else. Fortunately, there are techniques to do exactly that. The particle accelerator at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland – the world’s largest particle physics laboratory – is used to collide protons with other protons.
But can we make enough anti-matter to create a power sufficient enough to propel a spacecraft like the Enterprise? Or, of greater concern, an explosion? One might think that all that was needed would be to bring together a large amount of matter and a large amount of anti-matter and boom – the dreaded apocalypse. But that would be a very inefficient way of making an explosion. The amount of energy one would need to make to create that huge amount of anti-matter in the first place might just as well be put to work making an ordinary explosion.
Hope for the Future
Work with anti-matter is now decades old. Recent fears that CERN would create a black hole and suck the entire earth into it turned out to be unfounded. These scientists know the risks, and obviously have not blown up our world – and themselves – during their experiments. Humanity’s best interests have to be their priority.