Antimatter – Book Review

Antimatter is one of the most intriguing discoveries in all of twentieth century Physics. The idea that there is material reality that is in some sense “opposite” to our own seems bizarre and almost occult. And yet, antimatter is very much real, albeit extremely hard to come by. All of what we see in the Universe is overwhelmingly made of the “regular” matter, and it took some highly sophisticated theoretical speculation coupled with extremely ingenious experimental work to convince the world of the reality of antimatter. For the past eighty plus years antimatter has been a subject of intense scientific research as well as the endless source of fascination in the works of popular science and science fiction. A big part of this fascination is due to the fact that antimatter could be used as a very effective and compact source of energy: a single gram of antimatter could release more energy than some of the early nuclear weapons. This feature of antimatter has made it a preferred choice for fueling intergalactic travel in Star Trek, the main destructive weapon in Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, as well as an explanation of the 1908 Tunguska explosion. In recent years there has been a lot of speculation even in the mainstream news sources that the US military is actively working on weaponizing antimatter.

Because of the antimatter’s exotic nature that is nothing short of miraculous, it has often been very hard to separate the fact from fiction in all of the accounts of its properties. In this short book Frank Close attempts to do just that – explain what antimatter really is, how was it discovered, what is it good for, and how plausible are many of the claims about it that have been circulating around lately. Close manages to create a very readable and exciting popular science book. The discovery of antimatter and all the subsequent research on it form one of the main chapters in the fascinating development of the twentieth century particle Physics. Many of the events that are touched upon in this book have by now become an entrenched part of the Physics lore, but there are also a few less familiar stories that had not received a proper amount of coverage. In that respect this book can be a valuable source of new information even for people who are already very familiar with the history of particle Physics. The necessary mathematics needed for the understanding of some of the deeper concepts has been reduced to the absolute minimum. The matrix algebra which features prominently in Dirac’s equation has been relegated to one of the appendices, and it is not necessary for the understanding of any of the main points of this book. After reading it, hopefully it will become apparent how widely exaggerated some of the most prominent recent claims about the antimatter have been. The book also provides a glimpse into one of the biggest unresolved questions about the properties of the Universe – why there is vastly more matter than antimatter out there. It may even spur some young reader into deciding to pursue a career in Physics and help resolve this big mystery.

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