‘Angels’ Lecture to Separate Physics from Fiction

UT Dallas Prof is Researcher at Collider Lab Depicted in Novel and New Movie

May 11, 2009

Its plot centers on a secret society’s mission to destroy the Vatican using a small amount of antimatter.  Author Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons novel is a work of fiction set in the all-too-real setting of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European particle physics laboratory CERN, before the action moves to the Vatican City and Rome.

The best-selling novel was adapted for celluloid by director Ron Howard and makes its big screen debut May 15.  Tom Hanks portrays world-renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, and parts of the film were actually filmed at the LHC.

Though a compelling page-turner and brilliant blend of science and fiction, elementary particle physicists readily spot when the novel departs from real science and the realm of the possible to the unreal possibility of an antimatter catastrophe, courtesy of the minuscule amounts generated at CERN.

“Antimatter is real, unlike Kryptonite,” said Dr. Joseph M. Izen, a professor of physics.  “There actually was a dedicated experiment at CERN to trap antiprotons and to make antihydrogen a few years ago, but that was not part of the LHC program. There is a conversion of mass to energy when matter and antimatter annihilate, but the quantity of antimatter in Angels & Demons, the trap holding it and its appearance as a floating, pulsating antiblob in the book/movie are fictional plot devices. These days, more antiprotons are being made by the accelerator complex at Fermilab in the U.S. than are being produced at CERN.”

Izen is a researcher on the ATLAS experiment which is depicted in Angels & Demons.  All told, more than 1,700 scientists, engineers and others from 94 universities and laboratories from the United States are a part of LHC experiments.

Through a series of public lectures, the elementary particle physics community is using the opportunity of the movie premiere to tell the world about the real science of antimatter, the Large Hadron Collider and the excitement of particle physics research.

Izen will explain “The Science Behind the Myths and the Movie” at a lecture Thursday, May 14.  The lecture, followed by a Q&A, takes place from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the TI Auditorium (ECSS 2.102).  The lecture is free and open to the public.

“I plan to share some of the fun and excitement of working with real physicists at the real CERN,” Izen said.  “Dan Brown took many liberties with physics and physicists to tell a story, but the real version of CERN is in many ways more fantastic than the CERN depicted in his book. Since the movie opens the day after my talk, I am rereading the book to prepare, and I'm looking forward to seeing the movie. Part of the fun of a movie like Angels & Demons is asking whether the incidental technology and science depicted is real, or even possible. I've been having fun with this as I've been writing my talk.”

Izen said he’s offering the talk to help inspire the next generation of budding young scientists.

“I especially hope parents will bring their children,” Izen said.  “I treasure my own memory of the first time I met a real scientist when I was in sixth grade. A few weeks ago, I was invited to tell the Texas Astronomical Society about the LHC.  I have to say, the most cogent questions came from a boy who was possibly the youngest person in the room.”

To learn more, visit the Comet Calendar listing or the official LHC Angels & Demons Lecture Night Web site


Media contacts: Brandon V. Webb, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, Brandon.webb@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Above: Dr. Joseph M. Izen, a professor of physics,  will explore where science leaves off and fiction begins in Angels and Demons. His lecture is at 7 p.m., May 14.

Below (from left): Tom Hanks and co-star Ayelet Zurer joined director Ron Howard recently at the CERN physics laboratory in Switzerland, where parts of Angels and Demons were filmed.

Stars standing outside CERN

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