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Monday, May 02, 2005
Recent Books part 2

I noticed that a while ago I posted a blog entry entitled Recent Books part 1. Therefore, I feel obliged to write a Recent Books part 2. No, no, I didn't plan to write it in two parts. I only included part 1 in the title because I received an email from my future self, which I sent yesterday, telling me that I was writing a part 2.

So anyway, I am going to talk about Angels & Demons by Dan Brown. As much as I like to see many of my non-science-oriented friends get impressed by antimatter and all the cheem cheem physics stuff, Dan Brown's antimatter physics is really ridiculous. And since I am not a physicist or a physics student, I think it is fair to say that some of the science-that-went-wrong must be pretty fundamental because a quasi-layman like me noticed it.

First, a character in the book mentioned that antimatter would make a clean and efficient source of energy. That is all very nice except you don't just dig antimatter out from the ground. You have to make it with lots and lots of energy. The efficiency in creating antimatter is probably much less than one percent, which means using antimatter as an energy source is like a person blowing on a tiny windmill to power a light bulb to shine on a solar panel to generate electricity to charge a battery which can be used as an energy source. Or if you want a more realistic analogy, it's like saying electric cars are environmentally friendly because they don't produce greenhouse gases. But you then charge the car batteries with electricity produced by power plants that burn fossil fuels. And of course we all know power conversion is always less than 100%.

Second, a quarter gram of antimatter is freaking insane. If you use the formula, E=mc squared, you can calculate how much energy that is. I didn't bother to calculate but I won't be surprised if that's more than a thousand nuclear warheads. Now, since efficiency in making antimatter using particle accelerators is much less than one percent, the energy required to produce a quarter gram of antimatter would be at least a hundred times a thousand nuclear warheads. Seriously, how the heck can Mr Vetra use up so much electrical power without CERN questioning what he is up to?

Last, the most fundamental mistake any secondary school kid can point out. According to the character Vittoria, they manage to produce a "liquid plasma of containing millions of positrons". Millions of positively charged particles cramped into a space smaller than a drop of water. Unless Vittoria had also included nuclear fusion batteries for her antimatter containment canisters, there is no freaking way the forces exerted by the canisters can overcome the electrostatic repulsion (or shall I say positrostatic repulsion) between the positrons. The positron plasma should have just exploded and CERN should have become a beautiful crater.

But besides that, I rather enjoyed the book.

p.s. in my opinion, the universe was almost definitely not created by a simple matter-antimatter annihilation.

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