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Reality Check: The small science of ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ #4

Some cool concepts in here.

Mark Waid’s lessons in the science of the small continued in last week’s Ant-Man and the Wasp #4. With Scott Lang and Nadia van Dyne having shrunk to the size of fundamental particles, what kind of crazy physics phenomena would they encounter?

It doesn’t get any more fundamental than quarks, the very building blocks of protons and neutrons — yes, even those most basic of things are divisible. A proton is made of two up quarks and one down quark, and a neutron is one up and two down.

Okay, what the hell does that mean? As Nadia says, quarks come in six different “flavors” —  up, down, bottom, top, strange and charm. Yes, physicists can be cheeky, too. They don’t “shift back and forth,” though. The others are all very high energy, produced by high speed particle collisions and then quickly decaying to our stable up and down quarks.

And quarks don’t really “cancel each other out,” either, unless you’re talking about the charges of the one up and two down quarks combing to make the neutron … well, neutral.

It’s unclear why or how Nadia thinks Scott may have transformed into antimatter, but if he has, she’s right to be worried about annihilation  — the ultimate canceling out.

It’s thought that every type of particle has an antiparticle, which is just something with the same mass but the opposite charge. When a particle and its antiparticle encounter each other, they destroy each other, converting into energy according to Einstein’s famous E=mc2.

Since “c” (the speed of light) is very large, that’s a lot of energy. It’s why rockets powered by matter/antimatter annihilations are one theorized way to reach the high speeds needed to make deep space exploration practical. But then you have the problem of storing it so it doesn’t annihilate before you want it to, which is usually done by suspending the antimatter with electric fields. If antimatter Ant-Man is standing directly on normal matter, well …

Incidentally, another problem with any supposed antimatter engine is that the stuff is really rare, and no one knows why. It stands to reason that at the beginning of the universe, the same amounts of antimatter and “regular” matter were created. Could it be there was just a tiny bit more of regular matter instead? An antimatter-powered spacecraft would likely get its fuel from particle accelerators, which would take a long time and cost a whole hell of a lot.

We’ve already talked about quantum entanglement and why not every particle is linked to every other particle, but what’s this about quantum foam? Is that like a Micronauts body wash?

Quantum foam” is kind of a stand-in term for the idea that empty space isn’t really empty, and is more like ripping reality apart than holding it together. Particle-antiparticle pairs are constantly popping into existence at the smallest levels before annihilating each other again, so that energy is still conserved. It’s often imagined that seemingly calm space-time is actually roiling with activity, enough to push some subatomic characters along?

Better yet, could we catch some of those antiparticles before they disappear and fix the rocket problem? It works (maybe) in Hawking radiation.

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