Tipler's quantum conversion bomb

From: Brian Atkins (brian@posthuman.com)
Date: Thu Jan 05 2006 - 17:20:33 MST


Professor of Mathematical Physics, Tulane University; Author, The Physics of

Why I Hope the Standard Model is Wrong about Why There is More Matter Than

The Standard Model of particle physics a theory of all forces and particles
except gravity and a theory that has survived all tests over the past thirty
years says it is possible to convert matter entirely into energy.
Old-fashioned nuclear physics allows some matter to be converted into energy,
but because nuclear physics requires the number of heavy particles like neutrons
and protons, and light particles like electrons, to be separately conserved in
nuclear reactions, only a small fraction (less than 1%) of the mass of the
uranium or plutonium in an atomic bomb can be converted into energy. The
Standard Model says that there is a way to convert all the mass of ordinary
matter into energy; for example, it is in principle possible to convert the
proton and electron making up a hydrogen atom entirely into energy. Particle
physicists have long known about this possibility, but have considered it
forever irrelevant to human technology because the energy required to convert
matter into pure energy via this process is at the very limit of our most
powerful accelerators (a trillion electron volts, or one TeV).

I am very much afraid that the particle physicists are wrong about this Standard
Model pure energy conversion process being forever irrelevant to human affairs.
I have recently come to believe that the consistency of quantum field theory
requires that it should be possible to convert up to 100 kilograms of ordinary
matter into pure energy via this process using a device that could fit inside
the trunk of a car, a device that could be manufactured in a small factory. Such
a device would solve all our energy problems we would not need fossil fuels
but 100 kilograms of energy is the energy released by a 1,000-megaton nuclear
bomb. If such a bomb can be manufactured in a small factory, then terrorists
everywhere will eventually have such weapons. I fear for the human race if this
comes to pass. I very hope I am wrong about the technological feasibility of
such a bomb."

Brian Atkins
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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