Anti-Matter: My little contribution to an up-coming Nobel prize?
During my days at Brookhaven, I made the acquaintance of one Prof. Philipp Platzmann. (Aside: This was a great feature of National Laboratories, they were great equalizers: everyone talked to everyone, regardless of rank or affiliation or student or professor. I only learned many years later that Phil was himself a great scientist, and he was also one Richard Feynmann’s Ph.D. students. So in hindsight I feel quite honored he so freely took the time to chat with me.) Anyway, what Phil got me excited about was a very, very technical idea with a very, very technical name: Bose-Einstein condensation of physiabsorbed positronium atoms. If you can forget the jargon, in reality it is even cooler than a warp engine: up until now, anti-matter was just beams of little particles flying through magnets. But given the right circumstances, Phil thought, you should be able to condense them and create an anti-matter liquid!
I ran back to my mentor, Kelvin Lynn, and told him that time was running out, there would be hot competition if anyone else discovered Phil’s terrific idea, and we should condense our anti-matter at once! I didn’t know how much airplane tickets to Stockholm cost, but did know I wanted the Nobel Prize! I remember Kelvin smiling with that “I am now going to shock you” look that is a hallmark of experimentalists. With a few facts and figures (such as beamline current and positronium formation probabilities) it would be many decades before anyone would be creating liquid anti-matter. Kelvin then sent me to speak with Marc Weber, a Ph.D. student in his team, who was fighting hard just to create a few dozen particles of positronium, let alone enough quantities for a liquid.
Fast forward two decades. Kelvin and Marc are still working together. They have relocated their laboratory from Brookhaven National Laboratory to Washington State University, where they are now working hard on exactly this topic! And when I visited them recently I got the surprise of my life: there, in their hopefully soon-to-be-an-antimatter-liquid machine, were the first electromagnets that I wound in New York! (Like I said, I wanted the best damn magnets!)
My personal and professional belief is that being the first to create liquid anti-matter will be honored by a Nobel prize to those who succeed – although all of us in the industry know that it was the collective efforts of thousands of people that led here. And my personal and professional belief is that this new form of anti-matter will help us to make many new discoveries that are impossible today.
I hope very hard Kelvin and Marc win the Nobel prize. And after winning it, I would be honored if they would send me a photo of them standing next to my magnets! And maybe they can hang a picture of the late Phil Platzmann on the wall behind them!
The history concludes here: Anti-Matter, Lessons for life.