From the Discovery of Antimatter to the Antimatter Initiated Microfusion Drive

in #history5 years ago (edited)


In analyzing a discovery that was made accidentally or in error that also became a game-changing idea, the discovery of anti-matter is likely one of the lesser known yet extremely influential accidental discoveries. In the early 20th century, the model of physics for the universe had a long-established line of mathematic projections that had formed into a collective paradigm. Sir Isaac Newton published “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica” in 1728 as the founding principles of what is now referred to as Classical Physics (Cohen et al., 2016). These principles remained the most widely accepted framework for explaining the mechanics of the universe until the early 20th century when ideas such as the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics emerged to upend classical physics (Plotnitsky, 2018).

One of the most influential discoveries that came out of that period was effectively made without intention and ultimately was an accident that came from what seemed to be an oversimplification at the time. In 1928 Paul Dirac attempted to reconcile Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with Heisenberg’s Quantum Theory (Nyambuya, 2016). When analyzing these two equations against each other, Dirac made an observation that the equations were assuming all particles to be positive mass (Nyambuya, 2016).

Due to Dirac’s understanding of mathematics, he made the observation that the equation X * 2 = 4 has two solutions in 2 and -2 (Nyambuya, 2016). Based on this algebraic principle, Dirac extrapolated that the problems that classical physics were having describing the nature of the universe was the lack of the assumption of symmetry concerning the nature of the existence of particles (Nyambuya, 2016). Dirac asserted that if there were particles that carried positive mass, there was likely an antiparticle that carried the opposite or negative mass in the same proportion as its positive counterpart (Nyambuya, 2016).

These ideas ultimately developed into what became the foundation for the concept of antimatter, for which Dirac won a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1933 (Duplantier et al., 2017). By 1932 technology had advanced enough to enable Carl Anderson to discover the positron effectively giving the first confirmation of the existence of antimatter (Carlson, 2018). Although the concept of antimatter and traces were proposed in the early 20th century, it would not be until the late 20th century that antimatter particles would be captured (Phillips, 1997).

While humanity had not yet escaped low earth orbit when Dirac proposed his theories, the concepts that he put forth have helped drive innovations that could eventually lead to humans using antimatter initiated microfusion drives to finally achieve human interstellar exploration (Lewis et al., 1999). In the conceptual implementation of an antimatter initiated microfusion drive, it is projected that a payload could be delivered over 10,000 Astronomical Units (930,000,000,000 Miles) in 50 years (Lewis et al., 1999).

The obvious benefit of this type of technology would be to give the potential for interstellar missions to elapse within the span of one human lifetime (Lewis et al., 1999). While these technologies may sound as if they are in a science fiction novel, Antimatter Plasma Guns have been developed by NASA to build the necessary components to create an Antimatter Initiated Microfusion engine (Lewis et al., 1999).

Academic institutions and the scientific process of presenting theories and concepts clearly played an influential part in the discovery of antimatter. If it were not for the forces associated with critiquing an idea or multiple ideas at once to then expound on how to reconcile these concepts, it may have been a lot longer before the theory of antimatter emerged. It is in this example of accidental discovery that the force of academia should be recognized as a major driving element of understanding the nature of the universe and ubiquitous mathematic concepts.

References:
Carlson, P. (2018). Carl Andersons 1932 Positron. In APS Meeting Abstracts.

Cohen, I. B., Whitman, A., & Budenz, J. (2016). The Principia: The Authoritative Translation: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.

Duplantier, B., Rivasseau, V., & Fuchs, J. N. (Eds.). (2017). Dirac matter (Vol. 71). Birkhäuser.

Lewis, R., Meyer, K., Smith, G., & Howe, S. (1999, June). AIMStar-Antimatter Initiated Microfusion for pre-cursor interstellar missions. In 35th Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit (p. 2700).

Nyambuya, G. G. (2016). Pauli Exclusion Principle, the Dirac Void and the Preponderance of Matter over Antimatter.

Phillips, T. J. (1997). Antimatter gravity studies with interferometry. Hyperfine interactions, 109(1-4), 357-365.

Plotnitsky, A. (2018). “The Heisenberg Method”: Geometry, Algebra, and Probability in Quantum Theory. Entropy, 20(9), 656.

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