Nov 062017

Theoretical evidence suggests that the fusion of two quarks could be a substantially more energetic event than the fusion of two hydrogen atoms.  Two “bottom” quarks release 138 million electron volts when fused to create a nucleon, while the fusion of deuterons/tritons to produce helium nuclei average out to about 18 million electron volts.

That’s cool and all, but the problem is that the lifespan of a free-roaming bottom quark is about one picosecond, while a halflife of tritium is 12.3 years. This means you can’t actually build up any of the stuff. If you posit some near-magical advanced technology that can crank out a kilo of bottom quarks in much less than a picosecond and mash them all together, you’ve probably posited a technology that can make a bigger bang without going to the bother of fusing the quarks… just the process of turning barionic matter into a pile of quarks is probably damaging enough (imagine if the Death Star didn’t just fire a boring old laser beam, but emitted a magical field that converts the baryons that make up a planet into free quarks).

Still, it’s always interesting when science comes up with new stuff that allows science journalists to kinda freak out a bit and produce clickbaity article titles…

The Subatomic Discovery That Physicists Considered Keeping Secret

 Posted by at 11:27 am
  • Bob

    Frank Tipler has similar worries about just plain old matter, sand, peanut butter, old shoes, anything:

    Why I Hope the Standard Model is Wrong about Why There is More Matter Than Antimatter

    The Standard Model of particle physics — a theory of all forces and particles except gravity and a theory that has survived all tests over the past thirty years — says it is possible to convert matter entirely into energy. Old-fashioned nuclear physics allows some matter to be converted into energy, but because nuclear physics requires the number of heavy particles like neutrons and protons, and light particles like electrons, to be separately conserved in nuclear reactions, only a small fraction (less than 1%) of the mass of the uranium or plutonium in an atomic bomb can be converted into energy. The Standard Model says that there is a way to convert all the mass of ordinary matter into energy; for example, it is in principle possible to convert the proton and electron making up a hydrogen atom entirely into energy. Particle physicists have long known about this possibility, but have considered it forever irrelevant to human technology because the energy required to convert matter into pure energy via this process is at the very limit of our most powerful accelerators (a trillion electron volts, or one TeV).

    I am very much afraid that the particle physicists are wrong about this Standard Model pure energy conversion process being forever irrelevant to human affairs. I have recently come to believe that the consistency of quantum field theory requires that it should be possible to convert up to 100 kilograms of ordinary matter into pure energy via this process using a device that could fit inside the trunk of a car, a device that could be manufactured in a small factory. Such a device would solve all our energy problems — we would not need fossil fuels — but 100 kilograms of energy is the energy released by a 1,000-megaton nuclear bomb. If such a bomb can be manufactured in a small factory, then terrorists everywhere will eventually have such weapons. I fear for the human race if this comes to pass. I very hope I am wrong about the technological feasibility of such a bomb.

    • Peter Hanely

      My understanding is that some quantum conservation laws get in the way of 100% matter to energy conversion unless antimatter in involved, or you use a Hawking black hole.

    • publiusr

      It is why we need a moonbase for such things.