Learn the science behind Angels & Demons film at upcoming lecture

York Professor Scott Menary will explain the science behind the new movie Angels & Demons, including his work on an experiment to produce and store a sample of antimatter, during a public lecture at the University on Thursday, May 21.

The film, released last Friday, revolves around a plot to destroy the Vatican using antimatter stolen from the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics. The film stars Tom Hanks and is based on the bestselling book by Dan Brown.

“The premise in Angels & Demons is that antimatter can be used like a bomb,” says Menary, a professor in York’s Department of Physics & Astronomy. “When antimatter comes into contact with matter it annihilates and is converted into pure energy, which theoretically could be used in a destructive way. That’s probably the most common question that anyone watching the movie will have, and one that this lecture will examine.”

Scientists generally accept that the universe began with the big bang. For every particle of matter created in this event, a twin was also born – an antiparticle identical in mass but with opposite electric charge.

“The fundamental question is, where did all the antimatter in the universe go?” says Menary. “For some unknown reason, as the universe evolved we were left with only a minute amount of matter, and that forms everything we see around us.”

Right: Scott Menary

Menary works on the Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus experiment, dubbed ALPHA, at CERN. ALPHA involves the collaboration of Canadian scientists from the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Calgary and Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics, TRIUMF, as well as scientists from the US, Brazil, Denmark and the UK.

The experiment involves attempting to combine antiprotons produced at CERN and positrons (anti-electrons) from a radioactive source to make antihydrogen atoms. The intention is then to trap and analyze a significant sample of the antihydrogen atoms using laser spectroscopy.

”If we can accomplish this, it will help us compare matter and antimatter systems with unparalleled precision,” Menary says. “The more we can learn about antimatter, the better we can understand the origins of the universe and, ultimately, how we came to be.”

The lecture is part of a series taking place across the US and Canada, organized by the international particle physics community. Canadian lectures are currently scheduled in seven other cities: Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Sudbury and Ottawa. For more information about the series, including a list of lectures and local contacts, visit the Angels & Demons Lecture Nights: The Science Revealed Web site.

The lecture will take place at 7:30pm in York’s Accolade West Building. Admission is free. To register, visit the Angels & Demons: The Science Revealed York Web site.

Worldwide, scientists working on experiments at CERN will host lectures and other related events for media and the public. Lectures are planned at particle physics institutions across Europe, Asia, Central and South America. For more information, visit the CERN Web site.