I just got back from a very interesting talk on the science behind the movie Angels & Demons, held at the Manitoba Museum, with speakers Dr. Jeff Martin (U of Winnipeg), Dr. G. Gwinner (U of Manitoba), and Dr. K Sharma (U of Manitoba):
Angels & Demons is an action-packed thriller that opens in Manitoba theatres later this month. It is based on Dan Brown’s best-selling novel that focuses on an apparent plot to destroy the Vatican using a small amount of antimatter. In the book and the movie, that antimatter is made using the Large Hadron Collider and is stolen from the European particle physics laboratory CERN. Parts of the movie were actually filmed at CERN.
These lectures are being held across North America, so I recommend you go to one of them because they’re a great way for somebody who’s not a scientist, but a science-enthusiast, to learn about anti-matter, to learn about colliders like the Large Hadron Collider, and to learn about particle physics.
If you’re not able to attend a lecture or if there’s not one in the area, here’s a little synopsis of whether what happened in the movie is true:
In the movie, the Vatican is threatened by 1/4 gram of anti-matter, that will flatten it when the battery in its container dies. In reality the Large Hadron Colliders and physics labs around the world do produce anti-matter, but in very small amounts. If I remember correctly from the lecture, the amount that’s produced is usually about 1 billionth the size of the amount used in the movie. It would take 190 million years to produce 1/4 gram of anti-matter, so don’t worry. We’ll be destroyed by an asteroid before we destroy ourselves with anti-matter.
The lecture was also talking about the Higgs Boson Particle, which is referred to in the movie by the unfortunate name of “the god particle”. The Higgs Boson is a theorized particle that would help explain the origin of mass in the universe. It hasn’t yet been observed, so one of the goals of the Large Hadron Collider is to provide evidence either for or against its existence. Wikipedia, as always, has an excellent summary of the Higgs Boson, so I recommend looking there for more accurate information than I can give.