Web exclusive: MSU professor discusses antimatter following ‘Angels & Demons’ showing
When Wacousta, Mich., resident Kathy Bender went to NCG Cinemas, 2500 Showtime Drive, in Lansing, Wednesday night to catch a movie, she wasn’t just paying for a ticket — she was paying for a physics lesson.
Bender and a crowd of about 100 others were taken on a tour of the building blocks of life following a showing of “Angels & Demons” with MSU physics professor Raymond Brock acting as the tour guide. Brock’s hour-long presentation, entitled Antimatter: Angel or Demon?, addressed the background, truths and mysteries behind the real substance whose discovery has served as a basis for science fiction plots for more than 60 years.
Antimatter is a particle of matter whose charge has been reversed, and it results from high-speed particle collisions. In “Angels & Demons,” specifically, antimatter is harnessed in the form of a bomb.
“Did I understand anything? No,” Bender said laughingly after the presentation. “I grew up learning an atom was as small as it got.”
Brock conducts fundamental matter and energy research in conjunction with MSU, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., and the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Geneva. Wednesday’s presentation was one of about 100 similar lectures happening in museums, libraries and college campuses around the globe.
Brock addressed the fictional role of antimatter in the movie and its use as a weapon. The amount of antimatter required to create a bomb would not be feasible at the rate it is produced, he said, not to mention there is no known method of storing antimatter.
“This has been brewing for a number of months all over the world,” he said. “I’d like for people not to worry somehow that antimatter bombs are doable.”
Brock, who travels to CERN four to five times per year and stays for about a week on average, said he enjoys doing such presentations as a way of paying back the people whose dollars fund the research into matter and antimatter. The researchers must proactively seek funding every three years, he said.
“We get our resources from the taxpayers,” he said. “It really seems to us — and I’m not alone in this — that the public ought to have the opportunity to know where its money has gone. I find that a lot of people enjoy hearing this stuff, so I do it whenever I can as a sort of payment for the privilege.”
His invested time appeared to pay off Wednesday. Bender, who attended the presentation with fellow Wacousta resident and MSU executive staff assistant Tana Boehm, said she was surprised at the importance such small particles have to the world.
“They’re working down to such finite things trying to understand the mass that we do have,” Bender said. “(They’re studying) something so, so small, but still has to do with the whole universe.”
Boehm said it was interesting to learn about the goings-on at CERN and Fermilab, and both women agreed that although much of the covered material was mind-boggling, it was worth listening to.
“So much of it was over my head,” said Boehm, “but I’m really glad I came to it.”