February 12, 2009 / 4:57 PM / 10 years ago

Physics lab allays Angels & Demons antimatter fear

GENEVA (Reuters) - The European physics laboratory that reassured us it wouldn’t destroy the Earth in a “Big Bang” experiment last year is now telling people not to fret about antimatter.

U.S. actor Tom Hanks poses during a photocall to promote the movie "Angels & Demons", premiering May 15, at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

Physicists at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) are keen to separate fact from fiction in Hollywood’s upcoming adaptation of the Dan Brown novel Angels & Demons, in which a secret society tries to annihilate the Vatican with antimatter stolen from the lab on the Swiss-French border.

CERN spokesman James Gillies said that while director Ron Howard “tried to get the science as right as is possible in the film,” some aspects of the fictional plot are unavoidably fantastical.

“The basic problem is the concept of antimatter,” he said. “You cannot make that much.”

In a statement coinciding with a visit of Angels & Demons stars Tom Hanks and Ayelet Zurer to the research center, CERN said its production of low-energy antiprotons could help solve the mystery of why matter has triumphed over antimatter, and also lead to life-saving technology, such as cancer treatment.

“As Dan Brown correctly points out, when matter and antimatter meet, they annihilate, leaving only energy behind,” CERN said. “One of the great mysteries of the universe today is how enough matter has survived to provide the building blocks for stars, planets, and even us.”

Matter and antimatter are believed to have been created in equal amounts in the Big Bang that cosmologists say started up the universe 13.7 billion years ago, though today antiparticles are extremely rare.


Cancer tests using positron emission tomography, known as PET scans, also rely on antimatter, CERN said. “Preliminary experiments carried out at CERN have shown that antimatter particle beams could be very effective at destroying cancer cells.”

While most of Angels & Demons was shot in Rome, the opening sequence includes images inside CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, which Gillies described as “more visually spectacular” than the Antiproton Decelerator complex.

The filming took place last year, before the 27-km (17-mile) tunnel was sealed to begin experiments on the smallest building blocks of matter. CERN was forced to allay public concerns it might spawn black holes that would swallow the Earth.

Cooling system problems later caused the collider experiment to stop. CERN said this week it would not restart until September to allow time for repairs.

Howard, who also directed the Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind and Apollo 13, said he was awed by work underway at CERN.

“The scientists here have been incredibly helpful in explaining the science to us, and giving us access to some incredible places. I think what they’re doing here is fantastic,” he said in a statement.

Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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