General Question

kevbo's avatar

Antimatter: Hooh. Good God, y'all. What is it good for?

Asked by kevbo (25611points) May 8th, 2010 from iPhone

Someone recently filed a patent for an antimatter storage device. What are the (actual or theoretical) uses of and applications for antimatter?

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11 Answers

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

Antimatter annihilates matter when the two meet, releasing energy in the form of gamma rays. This is the principle used in Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning. Antimatter is a promising form of fuel for space vehicles, since it releases huge amounts of energy while requiring little mass. A containment system would allow large amounts to be stored in preparation for a future space mission.

kevbo's avatar

Huh. How is antimatter sourced/corraled/directed during PET scans? Or does the process attract “ambient” antimatter already present in the vicinity?

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

PET scans use a substance called 18-Fluorodeoxyglucose, which is an isotope of Fluorine bonded to glucose. This isotope undergoes a nuclear decay process called positron emission. A positron is the antimatter counterpart of an electron, so when the two meet they emit two gamma ray photons at 180 degrees to each other. Since the isotope produces the positron in the patient, there is no need for containment systems. However they would be useful for capturing the positrons produced by the substance before injection into the patient, simply because antimatter is so hard to produce.

The containment system is not useful for PET, but would be extremely useful for space exploration or for making complex collisions in particle accelerators.

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augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Reminder: This is the General Section. Unhelpful or off-topic responses will be removed here.

ragingloli's avatar

It can be used as the almost ultimate energy source for spaceships (exceeded only by ZPE), since it would be the fuel with the highest possible energy density (E=mc²).
Of course, countries like Russia, China, or the US would rather make bombs with it.

Nullo's avatar

I believe that there are a few antiprotons whirling around a cyclotron in Wyoming even now.

@FireMadeFlesh Aren’t there other ways to get gamma radiation? I remember something about zapping an isotope of halfnium with microwaves…

FireMadeFlesh's avatar

There are plenty of other ways. Gamma radiation is a product of many different nuclear decay processes, and the linear accelerators used in Radiation Therapy can achieve x-ray energies approaching that of gamma rays. Other Nuclear Medicine imaging techniques use Technitium 99m, which emits gamma rays to a single gamma camera. However the special thing about PET scanning is that it produces two gamma rays in exactly opposite detectors. Only when both are detected on opposite sides of the machine is the point recorded in the image. This helps to reduce noise and the effects of scatter, and therefore produces better quality images.

mattbrowne's avatar

Short term: cancer therapy

Long-term: energy transport, space travel

A weird idea would be to use solar power in the Sahara and ship antimatter to Europe (instead of installing power lines).

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