Antimatter Propulsion as a High School Science Project
Kids are smart. Much smarter as the years go by then the kids before them.
I remember my high school science project, a baking soda volcano. Of the 20 that were submitted that day mine was not the best.
Now a high school student has developed a new magnetic exhaust nozzle that would double the velocity of an antimatter-powered rocket.
Beamed core antimatter propulsion – more efficient, but don’t hold your breath!
Despite the extraordinary difficulty of generating and storing significant amounts of antimatter, the potential it offers as a power source for interplanetary and interstellar voyages is nearly irresistible to spaceflight visionaries. Hearing this call to adventure, Roman Keane, a high school senior at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio, and his mentor, Senior Research Fellow Wei-Ming Zhang of Kent State University, decided to optimize an existing model for an antimatter-powered rocket engine.
Matter reacting with antimatter is the ultimate source of energy which might be available to power space travel beyond the Solar System. The energy released by the reaction of a gram each of antimatter and matter is about equal to that of a forty kiloton atomic bomb. As a result, numerous conceptual studies have examined antimatter as a fuel for extrasolar spacecraft. A full design effort is somewhat pointless at this stage, as at present we don’t know how to manufacture, store, or manipulate large quantities of antimatter – the current cost of that gram of antimatter is roughly estimated at about a trillion US dollars.
Clearly, developing a spacecraft to ply the vast expanses between stars is a terribly difficult enterprise, and the methods to be used when our technology has advanced enough will probably not be like anything we can currently conceive. Despite that, it is often inspiring to take a small bite of a nearly impossible project, and discover that we indeed can solve a bit of it in the here and now. That this has been accomplished by a high school student increases one’s faith in the future of technology.