Science: It's Matter, but it's Not. Antimatter. Get It?

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, April 1996

Science: It's Matter, but it's Not. Antimatter. Get It?

A thimbleful of nothing sets the physics world atwitter
By Bill Donahue

After four years of trying, a team of physicists in Geneva has produced a thimbleful of something that, technically speaking, isn't anything at all: the world's first batch of antimatter. Like matter, the stuff is made of real atomic particles, says one of the scientists, but curiously, "It also doesn't exist." Adding to the intrigue, antimatter obliterates anything it touches. The ramifications of the new find seem daunting, to say the least, so we called up physicist Walter Oelert, head of the groundbreaking project, to find out more.

To be honest, we don't quite get it yet. It's matter, but it's not matter?
Yes, well, it took me years to get it. Try this: When you stand in front of a mirror, you see two things--your body, which is composed of matter, and your image, which is not matter. The two coexist in the same space. Matter and antimatter coexist in the same way.

Can you use antimatter's destructive powers to, say, get rid of your neighbor's yapping poodle?
In theory, yes. But it's very hard to produce. You can't just make a chunk in your garage. You'd have to burn all the world's coal and oil--and then you wouldn't have enough energy left over to light your house.

What can you do with it?
Store it. Play with it. You know, science.

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