Defining Moments: Antimatter

The Defining Moments series looks back at the biggest events of 2010 to see what we can learn from them here at P&P, to work better in our calling, in 2011 and beyond.


Antimatter has been a long-running plot device, used in TV shows and movies for about fifty years. But a year ago, it became important in the real world for about 170 milliseconds, or half of the blink of an eye. In November 2010, scientists were first able to “trap 38 atoms of anti-hydrogen and keep them for that brief space of time.

Does this mean we have an unending source of energy? A weapon of impressive ability? Not exactly. What it means is that scientists can begin to understand the basic ingredients of the universe. Why is our universe based in matter and not antimatter? Where did antimatter go?

These are deep and powerful questions, but practically speaking, “If you take all the antimatter produced in the history of the world and annihilated it all at once, you wouldn’t have enough energy to boil a cup of tea,”the head of the CERN antimatter project says.

Well, that certainly wouldnt make a very good movie plot, would it now. Not exactly action-packed. So given the reality of antimatter, why do we care? What can this teach us?

Simple. Think big, and never give up on it.

Scientists had guessed about antimatter for 70 years. Theyd even learned how to create it. But antimatter cancels itself out of existence as soon as it meets matter, and you cant study a thing you cant keep. Those 170 milliseconds were the result of five years of work.

A lifetime of knowing about something, and half a decade of hard work on it. Who among us can claim that kind of tenacity? How often have you taken on a difficult project only to let yourself be convinced out of it, by some well-meaning friend or colleague whos sick of seeing you toil away, and gets you to give up?

We all have, and most times, it was the right thing to do. But there have been moments where you knew it was worth sticking to your guns. Sometimes youve done it and been glad you did. Other times you let the project get away from you.

These scientists took a giant step toward understanding the basic ingredients of our entire universe: well worth five years, Im sure youd agree. Not being particle physicists, we cant all have goals that lofty, but we can do things that make a difference.

Look at your projects. Do you have bigger end goals in mind, or are you working simply toward the end of each delivery date? What really matters, and what are you doing to get there?


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