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Antimatter - $62.5 Trillion Per Gram?

—Aurora, IL

graphic mockup of icy antimatter experiment conducted by science agency not CERN that is meant to further research about space, quantum physics, and particle physics

Matter makes up almost everything on Earth, but in the grand scheme of the universe, there are many other forces at play. Dark matter, dark energy, and antimatter are all common buzzwords thrown around that make up large portions of our universe. Antimatter, in particular, has been proven to be a powerful substance capable of changing many facets of life on Earth as we know it.

Antimatter is basically the opposite of matter. Whereas matter is made up of protons, electrons, and neutrons, antimatter is made of antiprotons, positrons, and antineutrons. These antiparticles are called this as they have the opposite charge of their matter counterparts. The main selling point of antimatter is that it cannot exist while touching matter. If the two materials collide, they will both be annihilated and release a vast amount of energy proportional to the amount of material destroyed. Unlike other matter-based energy releases, however, annihilation results in a conversion of 100% of the material to energy. This has a variety of uses ranging from fuel to weaponry to medicine. Antimatter could be used as a highly efficient fuel for powering anything from cars to spaceships. A theoretical antimatter bullet could be laced with a few milligrams of antiprotons and used to destroy houses, tanks, and more. Finally, antimatter is already being used in medicine with the positron emission tomography (PET) scan to detect cancer in patients.

However, the main problem with antimatter is that it is notoriously difficult to produce. CERN (European Council for Nuclear Research), a quantum physics research facility located in Switzerland, creates antimatter inside of its Large Hadron Collider (LHC for short). Scientists at CERN transport particles at very high speeds, and when the particles collide, the energy created condenses into equal amounts of matter and antimatter. The LHC, in all of its years of operation, has only made 10 nanograms of antimatter, barely enough to power a lightbulb for 4 hours. Because of its extreme rarity, there is little consensus on how expensive it really is. Some theorists originally labeled it at around $25 billion per gram, while later estimates have placed it around $62.5 trillion per gram. For reference, that is 74 percent of the entire world’s GDP for just one gram.

large hadron collider part of cern doing nuclear research on antimatter and matter and positrons (PET scan), antineutrons, antiprotons which are stored in Penning Trap made of vacuum and high powered magnetic fields
The Large Hadron Collider is a large loop that makes particles crash into each other to create antimatter.

Another problem with antimatter is its storage. Because it will annihilate whenever it touches matter, storing it is very difficult. CERN has only been able to store antimatter for a maximum of 17 minutes before annihilation. One proposed solution for this problem is the Penning trap. The Penning trap is a device meant to suspend charged particles in a vacuum using magnetic fields. However, Penning traps are still not exactly simple (or cheap) to make and do not entirely alleviate the problem. Though they may work for charged antiparticles, they are less useful for uncharged antiparticles because magnets have less of an effect on them.

Overall, antimatter is a captivating part of modern quantum physics and can be extremely useful in a wide range of fields, whether it’s in medical science, weapons technology, or alternative fuel. However, its main drawback is that it is extremely difficult to produce and store, making it nigh-impossible for humanity to successfully use it with the technology available currently. Of course, who knows what the future may bring! Antimatter may become a norm in the society of the future.

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