Media Advisory

May 11 talk explores science in movie "Angels & Demons"

Contact: Robert Sanders, Media Relations
(510) 643-6998

06 May 2009



"Angels & Demons, the science revealed: Why physicists would love to trap antihydrogen, but the Vatican need not fear," a lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, about the science behind Dan Brown's novel and the new movie "Angels & Demons" that premieres May 15.

In the Sony Pictures Entertainment movie directed by Ron Howard, actor Tom Hanks investigates a plot to destroy the Vatican using antimatter made at the Large Hadron Collider and stolen from the European particle physics laboratory CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research).

The free lecture, presented by the campus's Department of Physics, is one of more than 40 talks scheduled this month in Canada and the United States to draw attention to particle physics, the science of antimatter and CERN's newest instrument, the Large Hadron Collider.


Monday, May 11, 6:30 p.m.


Chan Shun Auditorium (Room 2050), Valley Life Sciences Building, UC Berkeley. See campus map:


The lecturer will be Joel Fajans, UC Berkeley professor of physics. Fajans is a plasma physicist who conducts research at CERN to create, capture and study antimatter, a form of matter rarely found in nature.


"Angels & Demons" (2000) was Dan Brown's first thriller to feature Robert Langdon, a Harvard University professor enmeshed in a conspiracy to destroy Vatican City with antimatter stolen from CERN. As in Brown's later novel, "The Da Vinci Code" (2003), Langdon must decipher symbols left in ancient architecture and art that link medieval secret societies with a modern-day murder plot.

According to Fajans, the amount of antimatter that the book's villains steal from CERN would be more than sufficient to destroy Vatican City and a portion of Rome. Antimatter is the ultimate explosive, annihilating completely when it comes into contact with ordinary matter to produce pure energy.

No one has yet succeeded in trapping any antiatoms, he said. Two groups of physicists use the Antiproton Daccelerator at CERN - not the Large Hadron Collider - to slow down antiprotons enough to be trapped and combine with positrons, the antiparticle of the electron, to form antihydrogen. The goal is to probe antihydrogen in search of differences between it and normal hydrogen. Any differences would overthrow today's "standard model" of particles and their interactions, and might explain why antimatter, created in equal amounts during the universe's birth, is largely absent today.

Fajans' team, the ALPHA (Antihydrogen Laser PHysics Apparatus) Project, is now developing magnetic traps to capture antihydrogen. In his talk, he will discuss the history of antimatter - the first antiproton ever seen was created in the Bevatron accelerator at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in 1955 and earned UC Berkeley scientists Emilio Segre and Owen Chamberlain the 1959 Nobel Prize in physics - and how he and his colleagues hope to make, trap and study antihydrogen.