Exploring antimatters in fiction

Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons recently made its way onto the silver screen, and has drawn massive audiences due to the overwhelming popularity of the book, as well as the film’s star-studded cast. However, few may stop to consider the principles of physics behind the story. Enter Scott Menary of York’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Menary is one of several Canadian and American particle physicists who are giving free public-friendly lectures at universities across the continent to elucidate the science behind Angels and Demons. Although many of the principles in the film are extremely complex concepts in theoretical physics, in his lecture at York’s Accolade West Hall in late May, Professor Menary managed to make the Higgs Boson and antimatter accessible to even a science-illiterate audience.

In Angels and Demons, Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) is called to CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) to examine the symbol on the chest of a dead physicist, only to discover that a group of scientists called the “IIluminati” has resurfaced to seek vengeance upon their archenemy, the Catholic Church. Langdon discovers the Illuminati have plotted to destroy the Vatican using antimatter they have stolen from CERN.

CERN, Professor Menary explained, is the world’s largest research laboratory for particle physics and houses the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator 100 metres underground. By accelerating and smashing protons along a 27-kilometre track, scientists are able to better understand the laws of nature while attempting to recreate the conditions that existed when the Big Bang occurred. Upon generating these conditions, scientists hope to discover the nature of mass as defined by the Standard Model of particle physics.

The Standard Model is a theory that accounts for all of the forces in the universe, except gravity, and stipulates that particles produced in the Big Bang did not have mass. According to the Standard Model, particles acquire their mass by moving through space and by interacting with a specific particle, which endows each of the other particles with mass. This unseen molecule, which occupies all of space, was named the “Higgs Boson”—or the “God particle” as it is referred to in Angels and Demons. Menary mentioned that the “Higgs Boson is the lynchpin of the standard model; something like it has to exist or the entire system is wrong.” Essentially, if the particles in the Big Bang were created without mass, there must be something out there that gave them mass.

In addition to possibly producing the Higgs Boson particles, physicists at CERN are producing antimatter particles, such as those believed to have formed during the Big Bang. Antimatter particles are identical in mass but opposite in charge to physical matter.

The Big Bang hypothesis posits that at the moment the universe was created, particles and antiparticles existed in equal amounts. However, one second after this moment of creation, the antimatter, as well as most matter, completely disappeared and only a small amount of matter was left to create the stars, the galaxies, and planet Earth.

Antimatter does not exist on earth—it needs to be produced at CERN in the Large Hadron Collider through a process of extremely high energy particle collisions. Antiparticles annihilate when they collide with particles. In order to trap them, the antiparticles need to be decelerated from 96 per cent to 10 per cent of the speed of light. They also need to be stored in a “Penning Trap Ultrahigh Vacuum” so that they do not come into contact with matter. In very simple terms, if antimatter were to interact with matter in real life, an explosion would occur.

In Angels and Demons, one gram of antimatter is expected to destroy the Vatican once released from the Penning Trap. Even though one gram of antimatter could in fact destroy the Vatican (it could even destroy all of Rome and the surrounding area), it is unrealistic for Brown to claim that the production of this one gram is even possible. CERN is only capable of producing one billionth of a gram of antimatter per year. It would take one billion years to produce just one gram of antimatter!

Although Dan Brown may not have used particle physics principles with complete accuracy in his book, Dr. Menary explained that this invisible, destructive molecule does in fact exist, and it’s simply a matter of separating fact from fiction.

Trinity finds elitist rep hard to shake

Despite the presence of a secret society, a tradition of wearing gowns at dinner, and a college chant that boasts “We are the salt of the earth” and “No new ideas shall ever come near to us,” Trinity College insists it has changed.

Episkopon, Trinity’s pseudo-secret society, remains a contentious issue for the college. Banned from holding events on college property in 1992, the group still holds meetings off-campus. The college severed connections with the group after protests that it had become increasingly homophobic, sexist, and racist. The society has a designated leader, the Scribe, who, according the group’s website, helps deliver messages of “gentle and corrective chastisement.”

“They would pick your worst feature and tell you you’re ugly. They would pick young men that they thought were possibly gay and call them fags, which if you are 17 or 18 years old and you are still in the closet […] is really painful,” Dana Fisher, Trinity’s former chaplain, told the Toronto Star.

“The bottom line, from my point of view, is that this is a group whose time has passed,” said Andy Orchard, Trinity’s provost. “I’ve spoken to the person I believe to be the oldest living [Scribe] and he resolutely refused to have anything to do with the current group.”

The group has seen a marked decline in attendance over the years. Orchard said around 35 members attended the last meeting, a significant number of whom were alumni.

“You can’t tell me that 35 people out of 1,700 represent a significant portion of the college,” said Orchard.

Trinity students have also voiced concerns over their college’s aloof image. When the Toronto Star published an article on Episkopon in May, characterizing the club as “a crass, northern version of Yale University’s mysterious Skull and Bones society” and suggesting that it alienates students, over 350 students joined the Facebook group called “Hey Toronto Star, my TRINITY is Open and Inclusive. Do your research.”

“It’s sort of a broader campaign. We’re trying to combat the negative perceptions that people have about Trinity,” said Gabe De Roche, a fourth-year Trinity student and creator of the Facebook group. He’s currently working on a website that will feature stories and news that highlight Trinity as a college that welcomes diversity in all its forms.

With approximately 37 per cent of students currently reporting that English is not their first language, Trinity says it is not the WASP-dominated institution that its detractors claim it to be.

The college appointed its first Community Outreach Don this year to encourage student involvement in the community. This year, Trinity was also the first post-secondary institution in Ontario to sign the President’s Climate Change Statement of Action, a pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions. Among other student groups, the college supports “Rainbow Trin,” an active gay and lesbian social support group.

“[Trinity] is a very distinctive place and I certainly don’t want to lose that distinctiveness,” said Orchard. “That’s one of the great things we have going for us, but at the same time there are some old attitudes and old values that we need to wean ourselves off without being too draconian about it.”

But some traditions, such as “The Humbling,” continue to taint the college’s lofty reputation. This student-run event involves Trinity students, decked out in gowns, walking to other colleges and apologizing to them for being superior. While the admin frowns on such behavior, it still persists in some capacity.

With 158 years of tradition and history shaping people’s perception, Trinity faces the challenge of moving forward instead of dwelling on the past.

“Perception lasts for a long time,” said Orchard.

Balloon telescope unlocks secret of the universe

Using a two-tonne telescope carried by a balloon the size of a 33-storey building, scientists from U of T and UBC have helped solve the mystery of the origins of starlight.

After two years spent analyzing data from the telescope BLAST (Balloon-borne Large-Aperture Sub-millimetre Telescope), physicists are releasing information about the birthplaces of ancient stars. The team of scientists from Canada, the U.S., and the U.K. recently revealed in Nature that half of the starlight in the universe comes from young, star-forming galaxies several billion light years away.

Dust usually conceals approximately half of a galaxy’s cosmic starlight and obscures its history of star formation. Flying the telescope above the atmosphere allowed the team to see deep into the universe, at wavelengths unattainable from ground level.

“Stars are born in clouds of gas and dust,” explains Barth Netterfield, a cosmologist in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at U of T. “The dust absorbs the starlight, hiding the young stars from view. The brightest stars in the universe are also the shortest–lived, and many never leave their stellar nursery.”

BLAST’s thermo-detectors were able to identify the warmed dust, emitting light at far-infrared and submillimetre wavelengths invisible to the human eye, Netterfield explains.

“The history of star formation in the universe is written out in our data. It is beautiful. And it is just a taste of things to come,” says UBC professor Mark Halpern.

As UBC post-doctoral fellow Ed Chapin explains, the sub-millimetre telescopes used over the past decade could only create black-and-white pictures no bigger than the size of a fingernail. Today BLAST can easily produce hand-sized colour images, which marks a great advancement in the study of astronomy.

The data obtained from BLAST will help scientists better understand the history of the universe, and how it has changed over centuries. By providing them with a new outlook on the universe, BLAST will help scientists make new discoveries over a range of topics, like the formation of stars and the evolution of distant galaxies.

“In the distant universe, galaxies look very different,” explained Dr. Enzo Pascale, who led the U.K. team. “They’re much more massive, forming stars at a very high rate of thousands per year. If you look at our own Milky Way galaxy today, it forms perhaps just four stars a year.”

BLAST has also helped to answer pending decade-old questions. In the 1990s, NASA’s COBE satellite discovered the Far Infrared Background, a nearly uniform glow of submillimetre light. While scientists predicted that this radiation was coming from warmed dust-enshrouding young stars, the Far Infrared Background’s origins remained unsolved.

BLAST has finally unravelled this mystery, revealing that all of the Far Infrared Background comes from individual distant galaxies. BLAST can also examine star formation locally in the Milky Way, and the team is about to release the largest survey to date about the earliest stages of star formation, to be published in the Astrophysical Journal. The study proves the existence of a large population of cold clouds of gas and dust, which have cooled to less than minus 260 degrees Celsius. These cold cores are the birthplaces of stars.

In addition to leading the data analysis, the Canadian team that collaborated on BLAST also created most of the telescope’s hardware. The U of T team includes Barth Netterfield, department chair Peter G. Martin, and graduate students Marco P. Viero, Donald V. Wiebe (now a post-doctorate at UBC), and Enzo Pascale (now on faculty at Cardiff University).

Bring your kid to school

The pitter-patter of little feet will finally be heard in the halls of UTM next month, when the long-awaited UTM campus childcare centre opens its doors. Set to open August 4, the centre has 26 spots and is now accepting applications.

UTMSU began campaigning in 2007 for a daycare centre similar to those at sister campuses. The daycare was originally scheduled to open in January. When February came construction had not started, many doubted the centre’s future.

“We are looking forward to the Early Learning Centre’s new Mississauga campus daycare centre,” said Henry Ssali, VP external of UTMSU. “We hope that it is implemented as promised. The UTM campus is the only one among the three campuses that does not have a child care centre. We have parent students too. It’s is unfair,” said Ssali

The new facility, located next to the Leacock Lane residences, has room for 10 toddlers, aged 18 to 30 months, and 16 pre-schoolers, aged 30 months to five years.

Full-time students can expect to pay between $982 and $1,515 a month, depending on the age of the child. By comparison, full-time staff and faculty will pay more, as much as $1,180 to $1,790 a month. As well, part-time staff and students are offered the option of either 10 hours of daycare for $50 to $107 a day, or five hours of daycare for $27 to $54 a day.

The price is still too expensive for students, Ssali said, and might mean the daycare will be more accessible to faculty and staff. “Some students cannot afford tuition, yet alone child care. Many student parents will instead look someplace else,” he said.


  • Dollars for Daycare:Offers financial assistance for full-time UTM, St. George, and Scarborough campus students and part-time undergraduate students with financial need. International students with children can apply as well. Applications should be sent to the parent’s respective college.

  • Childcare Bursary Plan: Non-repayable funding offered through OSAP. Eligible students have childcare costs for three or more children and receive OSAP assistance. A separate application is required.

  • U of T Scarborough N’sheemaehn Child Care Centre Bursary: Eligible to students demonstrating financial need who have (or will have) one or more children at N’Sheemaehn. The bursary must be applied to childcare fees at N’Sheemaehn. Application required. Deadline: July 30.

  • U of T Mississauga student-parents (both undergraduate and graduate) can apply for a childcare grant, administered by the U of T Mississauga Office of the Registrar. They can submit a UTM Grant Application and Child Care Supplement form starting in late October. For more information, visit the Office of the Registrar to speak to an awards officer in person.

  • University employees are eligible for a partial reimbursement of childcare expenses under the university’s Childcare Benefit Plan. Employees can find out more by referring to www.hrandequity.utoronto.ca/groups.htm

Six months done: Sports half-year in review

Competition and change has defined sports this year. With the success of traditionally scrub pro teams, the reaching of destiny, and even the change in public perception of the Varsity Blues football program, 2009 has been an exciting year for sports thus far.

Here are the professional and amateur sports stories that caught our eye.

Singing the Blues

There were two very different though significant continuing stories in Toronto these past six months.

On the one hand, how abysmal has the performance been for two of the highest paid Toronto Blue Jays? Vernon Wells and Alex Rios have been comically inefficient this season.

There was a wrinkle in time, possibly in late May, where the Jays were the cream of the baseball crop. They had the ball and ran with it…right into a wall. Linking the team’s troubles to two individuals may seem unfair, as it’s a team sport. But neither Wells nor Rios have made me feel like this team could contend at all.

There was one glaring signal of their stingy offensive skill: in early June, Rios struck out five times in a home game.

On the other hand, the Varsity Blues are a sight for sore eyes.

Looking back on the past school year, Liz Hoffman, U of T’s Director of Athletics, can finally start to reap what she has sown with Varsity football. Her top-down decisions, including the hiring of coach Greg DeLaval, have helped the team finally break out of its losing streak.

Also being appointed the President of the Golf Association of Ontario in January, Hoffman has been a busy woman.

But the success of the Varsity Blues has been widespread this year. In April, cross country runner Megan Brown and swimmer Colin Russell were named University of Toronto’s T-Holders Male and Female Athletes of the Year. Their numbers were too impressive to ignore.

Brown won every race this past season and, for the second time with the Blues, won individual titles in the OUA and CIS. She won the OUA title by 34 seconds and the CIS title by 22 seconds.

As for Russell, his swimming achievements are impressive. Coming off of an Olympic appearance in Beijing, he swept all the freestyle events at the CIS, breaking records in the 50-, 100-, and 200-metre events.

Blues fans should be proud of the body of work so far. Let’s cross our fingers for a Blues football contender this fall.

Pittsburgh Pride

Pittsburgh is glowing right about now. The Penguins and Steelers becoming champions of their leagues has set the tone for two leagues known to always seek parity and change among the teams.

While the Penguins won a championship that many pundits thought was destiny for Sidney Crosby, many were boggled at the pandemonium that was the 2008-2009 NFL season. There has never been an era of American football where the margin between best and rest was so narrow.

Considering their team history, the emergence of the Arizona Cardinals was the face of the ultimate parity in the NFL. Around since the 1890s, the Cardinals needed a championship and it looked like this might have finally been the year. That is, until the Steelers swiped the NFL title in the dying seconds of the Super Bowl in February.

The Hamilton Coyotes

Everyone’s favourite story in 2009 is definitely Jim Balsille’s blatant disregard for NHL policies in favour of realizing a dream for many hockey fans in the Golden Horseshoe. The near theft of the Coyotes from Phoenix raised debate and restored an indifference to ice hockey for fans in Toronto. The end result is still unclear, but this story is far from over.

The Borel Chronicles

Let’s face it, some people simply dislike horse racing. Some say that the craft is harmful to the horses, while others say the sport is boring.

The reality is that sports journalism grew on the backs of horses and jockeys in the early twentieth century. Great horse-racing stories have been lacking since the days of Seattle Slew and Secretariat. Calvin Borel is a person that the sports world needs.

He is the second jockey in the modern era of horse racing to win two legs of the American horse Triple Crown on two different horses. And to add a little Canadian flavour, one of Borel’s wins came on a horse that was one of the biggest odds-on underdogs in Kentucky Derby history: Mine That Bird.

There was no more memorable image of Borel’s success than Mine That Bird’s ridiculous burst of speed in the last mile of the Derby at Churchill Downs.

Other Mentionables

The Festival of Excellence at Varsity Stadium brought track and field back to the forefront. As a long-time track athlete, I loved the concept behind this event: a celebration of the human spirit.

Bracketology was enormously difficult during March Madness this year, but the games were very entertaining. Congratulations to Tyler Hansbrough and his North Carolina Tar Heels crew for their championship.

Male pro athlete of the year (so far) is Roger Federer for finally winning Roland Garros in June and tying Pistol Pete Sampras in Grand Slam victories.

Other notable Blues athletes and teams: Alaine Hutton (basketball), the tennis and badminton teams, and Annie DelGuidice (women’s hockey).

GC passes capital projects

As Governing Council voted to approve major construction projects across three campuses at its June 23 meeting, noise from the protest outside wafted through the windows. The demonstration, organized by the University of Toronto Students’ Union, rallied against the new flat fees for Arts and Science students and demanded more attention for part-time students.

Every 10 minutes, in between blasting dance music, the sound of a heart monitor beeped before hitting a flat note.

One of the demonstrators, dressed as a surgeon, attempted to defibrillate a motionless student. The surgeon declared the student dead after two unsuccessful attempts, followed by a pun-loaded speech on the impact of the flat-fees measure, such as getting “first-degree burns.”

The “deceased” student then held a sign, also posted above the operating table, which read “Revive Flatlined Education.”

At the protest, UTSU encouraged students to attend demonstrations, financially support the ongoing court case against the university, and join the Drop Fees campaign.

The protest was sparsely attended, with 10 to 15 present, including members from labour unions CUPE and Steelworkers, and Hamid Osman, former president of the York Federation of Students. UTSU staffers were heard calling friends to boost turnout.

Inside council chambers, VP and provost Michael Marrus presented five major capital projects impacting all three campuses and totalling more than $170 million.

The bulk of the capital project spending went towards two new instructional centres at UTM and UTSC, which include classrooms, labs, and offices. The centres will each get more than $70 million. The remaining funds will go toward renovations for the Lash Miller Building, McLennan Physical Laboratories, and the School for Global Affairs at the Munk Centre.

But with a loud protest outside and outspoken dissent from student governors inside the meeting, the meeting’s process was anything but smooth.

Speaking through an interpreter, part-time undergraduate representative Jeff Peters argued that the university’s financial priorities were out of sync with the essential needs of students.

Peters said projects like a stadium for the Pan-Am Games and a centre for high-performance sport were unnecessary items that made part-time undergraduate students a lower priority. “They need advocacy,” he said. “They need APUS [the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students]. They need to pay less tuition.”

Marrus countered that students benefit through many of the university’s priorities by means of financial aid, library improvements, and necessary expansion. He pointed to the Citizen Lab, famous for developing software against online censorship and most recently used by Iranians for online dissent. “Where are they in the Munk Centre?” he asked, “They’re in the basement!” When The Varsity contacted Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert, he said it’s not the program’s location that’s the problem, but its lack of much needed space and sufficient funding.

Still, Peters said, for many students, the cost of the new buildings would be bundled into an ancillary fee not covered by student loans and could affect students’ ability to afford basic needs. “It’s more important to have food on the table than all these expensive buildings,” he said.

Governors voted overwhelmingly in favour of passing the construction projects, despite Peters’ challenge to those who voted “yes” to not eat for a week.

The next Governing Council meeting is set for Thursday, October 22. Both Peters and Marrus have retired as Governing Council representatives this year.

Turning over a new Leaf

Despite all the draft speculation and rumours, the Toronto Maple Leafs did not end up drafting the NHL’s next possible superstar. In the weeks preceding the draft, GM Brian Burke threw all kinds of hints about moving up in the draft and bringing John Tavares to Toronto. Leafs Nation collectively held its breath, as the Buds haven’t had a true superstar on their squad in quite some time. The Leafs are notorious for picking players past their prime. While the Raptors usually have a difficult time bringing superstar talent to the city because of the climate and fans, there is no doubt that Toronto is the unofficial hockey capital of the world. The 2009 NHL Entry Draft, however, denied the Leafs a chance to build their squad around an exciting young prospect. Perhaps Burke preferred not to deal out Luke Schenn or make any other risky concessions and instead focus on his current agenda of beefing up the Leafs into genuine hard hitters.

The draft, held at Montreal’s Bell Centre, saw the selection of 119 forwards, 70 defencemen, and 21 goalies. The New York Islanders retained their first-round pick and scooped up John Tavares from the London Knights. This was no surprise, as the last-place Islanders desperately needed some scoring talent. Rebuilding a team is a difficult and intricate process, as Toronto has witnessed, and the Islanders played their cards wisely to firmly defend their pick. Who better to draft than the kid who broke OHL scoring records at the age of 16? It still remains to be seen whether Tavares will be another Sydney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin, but the six-foot centre’s talent cannot be denied. The clinic he put on at the 2009 World Junior Championships had all the scouts drooling.

Next on the list was Victor Hedman, the elite Swedish defenceman, who was selected second by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hedman and Tavares were billed as equals in the draft race, and they represented the classic NHL draft conundrum: do you go for the flashy scorer or the super solid defenceman? NHL teams have had mixed results with their choices. Hedman was also part of a record seven Swedes who were drafted during the first round.

Other mentionable picks include Brampton Battalion’s Matt Duchene, who was taken third by the Colorado Avalanche, and Brayden Schenn, Luke Schenn’s brother, who was picked fifth by the Los Angeles Kings.

At number seven, the Leafs landed London, Ontario native and other London Knights star Nazem Kadri. Kadri scored an impressive 25 goals in 56 games for the Knights. It is unlikely that he will see ice time during the upcoming season, but the Leafs will definitely try to cultivate him into an aggressive, slashing centre to suit their gritty offensive plans. Interestingly, Kadri will be the first NHL player of Lebanese descent and only the second Muslim player.

The Leafs also picked right-winger Kenny Ryan at 50th overall, and defenceman Jesse Blacker at 58th overall. The Leafs are usually criticized for trading their picks and prospects for more seasoned players instead of developing them internally. Only the upcoming seasons will reveal what Burke has in store for these players, and how he will incorporate them into the Leafs’ painfully slow rebuilding process.

Grant program spreads money around

The Conservative government unveiled on June 22 its standardized national system of grants, originally announced in the 2008 federal budget.

Under the new Canada Student Grants Program, individual awards will be reduced from $3,000 to $2,000 in order to increase the number of students qualifying for grants from 125,000 to 245,000. Student lobby groups praised the announcement, though they say it’s only a first step.

“The new grants program is very exciting because the government is acknowledging that there is a part of my financial contribution to my education which I don’t have to repay,” said Arati Sharma, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Katherine Giroux-Bougard, national chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students, said the CFS welcomed the national grant system.

The CSGP will replace the Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which expires later this year. It will not replace the 3,000 merit-based scholarships awarded by the MSF. The MSF had been criticized by both student groups and the Auditor-General for its low standards of financial transparency when compared to government-run programs. Under the CSGP, the administration of MSF grants will move to the Ministry of Human Resources and Skills Development.

“In our opinion the new system of grants is a much more transparent, accountable system of grants. It’s there for the long-run,” said Giroux-Bougard.

In addition, the newly-established Repayment Assistance Plan will help low-income borrowers pay back federal student loans.

“RAP is a great program because if you start to miss your payments or if you know that you’re going to miss your payments, then you can apply to RAP and they’ll assess you based on what your income threshold is right now and how much you can actually pay back,” Sharma said.

In a statement to the Globe and Mail, Alex Usher, a consultant with the Educational Policy Institute, criticized the new measures as overtly political. Critics point out that instead of putting in new money, the programs are simply redistributing available funds to cover more students.

“I suspect that it will not have the effect on access that they think it will, but spreading money around more is likely to be politically popular,” said Usher. Immediately before joining the Educational Policy Institute, Usher was the lead researcher for the MSF’s research project.

Sharma disagreed with Usher’s assesment. “I think it’s less political [and] more the fact that Millennium was phasing out [in 2009] and they needed to replace Millennium with something,” she said.

The new programs will be made available in August.