Antimatter Chemstry (For Small Values of Chemistry)

The AIP Physics News service last week highlighted a new result from the Athena collaboration at CERN with the headline "First Antimatter Chemistry". That conjures images of sticking anti-carbon atoms together to make anti-buckballs, but that's not exactly what's going on...

The experiment in the case involves the interaction between anti-protons and molecular hydrogen ions. They slow and trap the anti-protons, and bring them into the same region with the H2+ molecules, and a reaction occurs that pulls the molecule apart, producing a neutral hydrogen atom and something they're calling "protonium," a state with a proton and anti-proton bound together for a short time before they annihilate.

Now, I suppose this is technically chemistry, in some sense, as it features the interaction of a molecular ion with an atomic ion (an anti-proton is one positron short of anti-hydrogen, after all), but I think that's stretching things a little. When I think of chemistry, I think of the interaction of whole atoms and molecules, usually in large numbers.

That's nit-picking, though. It's still pretty darn cool that they're knocking anti-protons into other stuff-- even though they've been manipulating anti-protons for decades, these experiments continue to have a faint whiff of SF about them, and that's always fun, at least until Gregg Easterbrook reads about it, and starts nattering on about anti-matter weapons...

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This isn't a crappy little 1.022 MeV point lepton inverse sparrow fart. This is a big brass clangers 1876.54 MeV composite baryon brouhaha. More studies are needed.

Did somebody say "quadrupole?"

When I think of chemistry, I think of the interaction of whole atoms and molecules, usually in large numbers.

My rule of thumb is if the ion is in solution, it's chemistry. If it's hanging around by itself, it's physics.

Ugh, did you REALLY have to mention Easterbrook? I'm feeling a bit queasy just thinking about what he'd turn all this into...

"My rule of thumb is if the ion is in solution, it's chemistry. If it's hanging around by itself, it's physics."

There's a whole lotta molecular-beam p-chemists who would take exception to that, and a whole lotta surface chemists and materials scientists who would suggest that you might need a few more terms in your expansion there...