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Anti-Matter Created By Laser At Livermore 465

Posted by kdawson
from the billions-and-billiions dept.
zootropole alerts us to a press release issued today by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, announcing the production of 'billions of particles of anti-matter.' "Take a gold sample the size of the head of a push pin, shoot a laser through it, and suddenly more than 100 billion particles of anti-matter appear. The anti-matter, also known as positrons, shoots out of the target in a cone-shaped plasma 'jet.' This new ability to create a large number of positrons in a small laboratory opens the door to several fresh avenues of anti-matter research, including an understanding of the physics underlying various astrophysical phenomena such as black holes and gamma ray bursts." The press release doesn't characterize the laser used in this experiment, but it may have been this one.
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Anti-Matter Created By Laser At Livermore

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  • Hey! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Robin47 (1379745) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:29AM (#25797927)
    Watch where you point that thing!
    • Re:Hey! (Score:5, Funny)

      by MarkRose (820682) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:04AM (#25798153) Homepage

      Don't lase me, bro!

      • Anti-matter particle beam... AMPB..nah.. Beam of Antimatter Particles! thats it! BAP
        • by Hojima (1228978) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:30AM (#25798265)

          Does anyone know if this might someday lead to antimatter plants? From a special on discovery, I heard that antimatter has a 100% mass to energy conversion, and uranium/plutonium is very expensive to enrich, so using gold for energy wouldn't be too impractical. This would be very exciting research if it does mean cheap energy at that scale with no pollution.

          • by nebaz (453974) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:51AM (#25798417)

            No. While antimatter may have a 100% mass to energy conversion, it takes more energy to create it than it gives off.

            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by Pr0xY (526811)

              I don't necessarily think you are wrong here, but I have a doubt. The reason why is that you wouldn't necessarily be "gaining" energy if you got more out than you put in, because you are simply releasing the energy of the destroyed mass.

              As long as the energy required to create the positrons is less than MC^2 (and I would imagine it would be) since anti-matter/matter has a approximate 100% mass to energy conversion, then there should be a net "gain".

              Once again, I don't there energy is being "created" here, b

              • by hvm2hvm (1208954) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @04:55AM (#25799101) Homepage
                They created billions of positrons with a high power laser. The antimass(?) of a positron is the mass of an electron or 9.1E-31. Let's round it up and say we have 1E+12 positrons. Combine them with 1E+12 electrons, you get
                9.1E-31*2E+12*(3E+8)^2=0.018 J.

                Now I'm guessing the laser used is pretty powerful and that it consumes a lot of energy. If we take the specs of the laser linked in the summary, then it used 150J on one pulse which is not the true amount of energy they put into the device (it says it takes 30minutes between pulses at full power). The energy used is thousands or millions of times greater than the energy gained.

                Of course, lasers might not be the most energy efficient way of creating antimatter but that doesn't change the fact that if you want to turn m matter into antimatter you will need at least 2*mc^2 energy (at least that's my intuitive guess).

                Nuclear devices emit huge amount of energy with relatively small energy inputs because the reaction is selfsustaining, something inside the reaction keeps it alive. What you want is something that destabilizes matter and makes it turn into energy by, say, throwing a special particle at neutrons and/or protons. Turning it into antimatter only to collide it with matter afterwards is just a huge waste of energy.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Gromius (677157)
                You produce anti-matter in anti-matter-matter pairs. Ergo your idea can not work.

                I spent a while thinking if you could exploit the W boson which produces anti-matter - matter pairs of different flavour but I couldnt think of a way. Regardless any way which somebody could come up with would give such a small theoretical energy gain that you would almost certainly lose it through efficiency loses.
          • Sorry,the energy you get from the antimatter, if you can collect every single bit, it still even lower than the energy needed to fire the laser. That's conservation of energy for ya.
          • by CroDragn (866826) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:59AM (#25798463)
            You can't generate a net positive energy source with antimatter. Best you can hope for is to use the antimatter as a form of energy storage (think battery, fuel, etc). Of course, storage problems make it impractical for nearly every use, so don't expect anti-matter cars... ever. Space travel, however, would greatly benefit from a decent means of generating antimatter, since fuel mass trumps most other concerns in that field and anti-matter provides the most thrust/mass of any theoretical substance.
            • by ultranova (717540) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @07:34AM (#25799851)

              You can't generate a net positive energy source with antimatter.

              Make hydrogen containers with very thin gold walls - or more likely frozen pellets coated with gold. Bombard the gold with a laser, turning the surface layer into antimatter. Antimatter annihilates with the matter below it and creates an explosion, which heats and compresses the hydrogen, igniting a fusion reaction.

              It is, essentially, the equivalent of a fission-initiated fusion, which is proven to work and work well. The difference is that there's no lower bound to the size of an antimatter explosion - even a single electron and positron annihilate - so you can make the explosion be of suitable size for a power plant. And of course annihilation, as the name implies, doesn't leave behind radioactive materials, just gamma rays.

              Besides, Laser Antimatter Fusion is pretty much the epitome of cool ;).

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by rubycodez (864176)

                inertial confinement fusion with deuterium pellets surrounded by gold has already been done, but antimatter isn't a significant part of the fusion process. Even in this article, the amount of antimatter produced is miniscule

          • One step closer to developing the matter/anti-matter reactor. Star Trek will become reality!
          • by Anonymous Coward

            > Does anyone know if this might someday lead to antimatter plants?

            Nah, there isn't enough anti-sunlight for them to grow....

  • Holy Mackerel! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:30AM (#25797931) Homepage Journal

    Does anyone know how much energy this takes? They mentioned the previous petawatt laser experiment that was decommissioned, but I didn't see where it mentioend the power required for this experiment. If the laser guess by kdawson is correct, we could be looking at a mere 400 joules per 1E11 positrons. Which (if I'm not mistaken) would be an unheard of efficiency for creating antimatter! (Can someone verify? My brain is fried at the moment.)

    What I find interesting is that this level of production is competitive with Fermilab [fnal.gov]. Even if they ran this twice an hour, they'd handily meet or outstrip Fermilab production.

    Even more interesting is the possibility for mass manufacture of antimatter. By using mass-produced gold targets, you could rotate the materials in and out of the machine every few seconds, creating previously unseen amounts of antimatter. Such a process could easily provide materials for an antimatter catalyzed fission drive [wikipedia.org]. Possibly even enough to power new forms of interplanetary propulsion.

    Am I the only one who's getting really excited about this? /dreamer

    • by theheadlessrabbit (1022587) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:34AM (#25797945) Homepage Journal

      ...Such a process could easily provide materials for an antimatter catalyzed fission drive. Possibly even enough to power new forms of interplanetary propulsion...

      Am I the only one who's getting really excited about this?

      probably. they still haven't been able to crystallize di-lithium yet.

      • Re:Holy Mackerel! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Kagura (843695) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:22AM (#25798211)

        Does anyone know how much energy this takes? They mentioned the previous petawatt laser experiment that was decommissioned, but I didn't see where it mentioend the power required for this experiment.

        The great thing about this for spaceflight isn't that it takes a lot or a little to produce antimatter, but rather that the density of usable energy is orders upon orders of magnitude greater than chemical or electric rockets. Denser energy leads to more fuel carried leads to greater delta v leads to semi-relativist flight leads to hate leads to suffering. These can even be used within the atmosphere to launch rockets from the ground easier than you can say "prompt gamma ray output".

    • Re:Holy Mackerel! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FlyByPC (841016) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:35AM (#25797955) Homepage

      Even more interesting is the possibility for mass manufacture of antimatter. By using mass-produced gold targets, you could rotate the materials in and out of the machine every few seconds, creating previously unseen amounts of antimatter.

      If true, this is the 1940s all over again -- only on a larger scale. A thimbleful of antimatter would make any H-bomb look like a popgun. (...and yeah, I know we're not yet talking about anywhere near that order of magnitude. Yet.) It would certainly help with space exploration -- but we humans can't even be completely trusted with gunpowder and jet airplanes yet. *sigh*

      • Re:Holy Mackerel! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:59AM (#25798129) Homepage Journal

        If true, this is the 1940s all over again -- only on a larger scale

        Not really. We've already done the whole Cold War/Mutually Assured Destruction thing. Our weapons are already far, far larger than we could ever deploy here on Earth. Making them that much bigger only makes them that much more useless. At best, the only real advantage would be that they could be scaled down.

        Until we start looking at warfare on an interplanetary or interstellar scale, our existing nukes and possible antimatter warheads are going to sit in their silos and go unused. Or in the case of antimatter bombs, I simply hope they're not built. The idea of a large-scale antimatter warhead being prevented from detonation by mere magnetic fields maintained by the nearest power plant is not an appealing idea. Just disrupt the power infrastructure for long enough and we'll blow ourselves to kingdom come. :-/

        • by Boronx (228853)

          Until we start looking at warfare on an interplanetary or interstellar scale, our existing nukes and possible antimatter warheads are going to sit in their silos and go unused.

          Nukes have already been used, and do to dangerous attitudes like yours, which seem to proliferate as more time passes since the last use, they are likely to be used again.

          • Re:Holy Mackerel! (Score:5, Informative)

            by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@NosPAm.gmail.com> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:32AM (#25798281) Homepage Journal

            Nukes have already been used

            Yeah, once. (Twice if you want to be pedantic.) Then never again. The whole point was that the display of force showed that the weapons were too dangerous to use. As long as the various sides have them pointed at each other, no one dares use them.

            The only reason why the Cold War was so terrible was that the USA and the USSR were both waiting for the other to attack. Since neither one liked each other much (for both idealogical and practical reasons) the chance that an armed conflict would happen between the two powers was pretty darn high. Except that an armed conflict might precipitate into a nuclear war should either side feel backed into a corner.

            Thus the reason why the US didn't win Vietnam. The chance of starting a nuclear war was too great to risk pressing the war to a conclusion. Which raised the (very legitimate) question of why we were even in the conflict to begin with.

            • by Boronx (228853)

              The only reason why the Cold War was so terrible was that the USA and the USSR were both waiting for the other to attack. Since neither one liked each other much (for both idealogical and practical reasons) the chance that an armed conflict would happen between the two powers was pretty darn high. Except that an armed conflict might precipitate into a nuclear war should either side feel backed into a corner.

              You are misinformed about how close and how often the US and USSR came to nuclear exchange, and at th

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by skavenger (1219006)
              Pedantic? Really?

              To say nukes were only used once or twice is terribly misleading. Nukes were only used in a military capacity twice. Even more accurately, they were only used in a military capacity against strategic targets twice. They've been used for political posturing and military advancement approximately 2,000 times [wikipedia.org] in various settings and with varied payloads.

              This isn't intended to devalue the magnitude of the decision to effectively annihilate large numbers of human populations or suggest th
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by NatasRevol (731260)

              Twice?

              For the record, we've dropped nuclear bombs on four countries.

              Japan, Spain, US, Greenland.

              Not all of them were on purpose, but that doesn't mean they weren't dropped.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nuclear_accidents [wikipedia.org]

              Three of the four countries still have radioactive material on the ground from them. And they just couldn't find it in Greenland.

        • by linzeal (197905)
          The US military has already started demanding one [noahshachtman.com]. Which means some other country has a program as well, my bet is Russia. The only peaceful use for such power that I can conceive of would be to restart the core of a planet like Mars to give it a magnetic field.
        • Our weapons are already far, far larger than we could ever deploy here on Earth. Making them that much bigger only makes them that much more useless.

          One could argue that all wars are worse than useless. Doesn't stop them happening. In fact, the US Air Force has already shown interest in anti-matter weapons:

          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/10/04/MNGM393GPK1.DTL [sfgate.com]

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antimatter_weapon [wikipedia.org]

      • Re:Holy Mackerel! (Score:5, Informative)

        by zippthorne (748122) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:06AM (#25798165) Journal

        60e6*1e3 kcal / c^2= 2.8 kg [google.com] of antimatter will give any H-bomb look like.. uh.. something that's the same size as an H-bomb. H-bombs have been proposed (and postulated to have been built) that are larger than 60 MT, and a pop-gun typically has only a few Joules, so you'd need many orders of magnitude more than 2 kg of antimatter to make an H-bomb look like a pop-gun. something like.. four times the mass of mount Everest, in antimatter.

      • by Thanshin (1188877)

        Indeed, the manufacture of antimatter bombs would most certainly accelerate space exploration.

      • by shma (863063)

        If true, this is the 1940s all over again -- only on a larger scale.

        Calm down. The energy released by annihilating 100 billion positrons doesn't even come to 10 millijoules. Let me put it another way. According to Wikipedia, 0.6 g of matter was transformed into energy in the first uranium bomb explosion. This amount of anti-matter weighs 10^-16 g. That's 16 orders of magnitude less energy released. On top of that, there's no way to contain antimatter for long periods of time, so there's no way to gather enough anti-matter to make a bomb. But even if that technology were dis

        • by Pr0xY (526811)

          except that anti-matter/matter collisions have a FAR more efficient conversion to energy so you need much less of it.

    • by magarity (164372) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:39AM (#25797977)

      Possibly even enough to power new forms of interplanetary propulsion
       
      Yeah, because NASA (and similar agencies around the world) have whopping piles of cash laying around for this.
       
      Reporter: What's it like to fly the new spaceship?
      Pilot: Like burning a load of gold as fast as I can!
       
      Yeah, and you think the class warfare rhetoric between the rich and poor nations is bad now?!?

    • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:40AM (#25797993)

      Just use a zpm to power it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Quantum Jim (610382)

      I don't think this compares with Fermilab. The fine article is talking about creating positrons, not anti-protons. This isn't the first time I've heard about creating positrons from a laser shown upon a gold foil target. Here are two (from 2004 and 2001 respectively) that I just found on Google Scholar describing a result and a theory behind the positron production:

      http://llacolen.ciencias.uchile.cl/~vmunoz/download/papers/wclpp05.pdf [uchile.cl]
      http://www-project.slac.stanford.edu/lc/local/PolarizedPositrons/doc/Class [stanford.edu]

      • Thank you sir, you are my hero. (Even if you did just burst my balloon. :-P) Now I'm off to get some rest. By morning all the math should make sense again and I'm sure I'll be kicking myself with a "why didn't I see that?"

        Thanks again! It really is appreciated. :-)

  • doh! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Digitus1337 (671442) <{moc.liamtoh} {ta} {sutigid_kl}> on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:32AM (#25797937) Homepage

    Take a gold sample the size of the head of a push pin, shoot a laser through it, and suddenly more than 100 billion particles of anti-matter appear.

    It's so simple, I wish I'd thought of it!

    • by gaspyy (514539)

      Take a gold sample the size of the head of a push pin, shoot a laser through it, and suddenly more than 100 billion particles of anti-matter appear.

      It's so simple, I wish I'd thought of it!

      Don't worry, someone probably already has a patent on it.

  • Lasers (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chuck Chunder (21021) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:38AM (#25797971) Homepage Journal

    Is there anything they can't do?

  • by Dutchmaan (442553) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:39AM (#25797981) Homepage

    The anti-matter, also known as positrons, shoots out of the target in a cone-shaped plasma 'jet.'

    Apparently, it seems I can create anti-matter from eating too much TacoBell.

  • All or Nothing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Jheralack (1067056)
    I always wondered if they could assemble enough anti-matter to perform a Cavendish experiment if it would prove to be repulsive to regular matter gravitationally. I know the current theory doesn't call for it, but hey, that's why we do the experiments. Very symmetrical (in comparison to the electrostatic force equation), and very cool, if it turned out to be true. On the other hand, somebody should stop these fools now. The next thing they will want to do is bottle the stuff, and regular nukes would be
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maugle (1369813)
      Oh, that's a fun thought. On the other hand, I don't really see anyone trying to build an antimatter bomb any time soon, since just keeping one on hand would be incredibly risky:

      Something goes wrong storing a nuke: Area sealed off, that particular spot possibly radioactive
      Something goes wrong storing an antimatter bomb: Area vaporized, that particular spot the center of a city-sized crater
  • by Billy the Mountain (225541) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @01:47AM (#25798037) Journal

    This may open the possibility of cheaper PET scans. Currently, the limitation of PET scans is the answer to this question: "How far away is the nearest Cyclotron?" The half life of the radioactive material used in Positron Emission Tomography, typically Flourine-18, is ~110 minutes. With a laser that can generate positrons, you could have a mobile PET scan unit that would only need to rely on being able to connect to the grid.

    BTM

    • I believe, although I am certainly no expert, that hospitals and places that do PET scans do not take delivery of the radioactive materials with such short half-lives directly; they keep on hand material that will decay into the materials they need, which allows them to keep it on hand for longer.

    • by krysith (648105)

      No, I don't think so. F-18 is usually used as part of FDG (Flourodeoxyglucose), a biologically active molecule, so that the positrons are emitted from where glucose is consumed. Having random positrons flying throughout your body won't make for a very effective PET scan.

      Also, wouldn't it be more effective to just use Ga-68 if you are far from a cyclotron? It has a 68 minute half-life and is produced from Ge-68 generators, which have a 271 day half-life. I have a NIST traceable sample of Ge-68/Ga-68 in eq

  • From what I can gather from the comments and the article, this could become a stable fissionable reaction which would, hypothetically(assuming you can build up and store this stuff) produce an almost unlimited amount of energy? or is the gold(if there are no alternatives)/energy consumptions be too great?
  • Wow! (Score:2, Funny)

    I am hoping that they can produce enough anti-matter to make a weapon of some kind. An anti-matter bomb would be many many thousands of times more powerful than even a hydrogen bomb, and it gives me great hope to think that a bomb that huge would make America even safer than thousands of nuclear warheads already make it.

    Oh wait, that was just me getting into touch with my inner-Teller.

    • No, an AM bomb would be much more efficient than a thermonuclear device, which is currently the most efficient energy generation system available.
  • by TheBlunderbuss (852707) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @02:10AM (#25798181)
    Where are the anti matter particles now?
    I would think they're touching matter, since they didn't just harmlessly disappear.

    Isn't there supposed to be an enormous explosion when matter and anti-matter meet?
    Or is that fiction? or friction? Or fission? Or fusion? or confusion?
    • by Boronx (228853)

      You just missed it.

    • My understanding is, they probably did harmlessly disappear -- matter/antimatter annihilation turns matter directly into photons. Intuitively, I assumed a positron and an electron will turn into two photons -- Wikipedia confirms that this is what usually happens, though there can be more.

      So, billions of particles means probably billions of photons.

      Now, Google the number of photons put out by a simple 100-watt light bulb...

      The point is, well, look at how many atoms are in a thimble -- and each of those atoms

    • Re:Where's the boom? (Score:5, Informative)

      by compro01 (777531) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @03:24AM (#25798627)

      You are fantastically overestimating how much they made. 100 billion particles seems like a lot, but it's actually only about 9.1x10^-17 grams (91 attograms). You could likely be physically standing right in front of the thing, in the middle of the spray of particles, and not notice anything.

  • Intel should use those lasers to start to make processors that use positrons instead of electrons. Robots based on those positronic "brains" will have a big potential, and could last eons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by FooAtWFU (699187)

      That sounds dangerous. I, for one, am not willing to welcome our new robotic overlords! (Or regular human overlords with robot armies). Intel would need to come up with a scheme to keep the robots from harming people. Some sort of set of axioms... rules... laws, even... that would apply to all the robots they made, in order to keep them in line. Otherwise it would never work.

  • iDebt (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tablizer (95088)

    Shoot a laser at the 700b bailout money, and see if a surplus appears.
           

  • by Antique Geekmeister (740220) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @06:27AM (#25799501)
    "Yes, Dr. Scott. A laser capable of emitting a beam of pure anti-matter." It looks like we can no longer shout back 'Then it's not a laser!' Yes, some of us are old enough to remember going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show before it was a cult classic.
  • by Junior Samples (550792) on Tuesday November 18, 2008 @03:50PM (#25806847)

    According to Robert Lazar, former Area 51 physicist, element 115 is used as fuel generating antimatter in an Annihilation Reactor which powers the craft. http://www.boblazar.com/closed/index.html [boblazar.com]

    Details of Annihilation Reactor operation are here: http://www.boblazar.com/closed/reactor.htm [boblazar.com]

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