Monday, May 18, 2009

what's the matter with antimatter?

On a recent episode of the Daily Show, Tom Hanks was explaining his conversations with the particle physicists and his explanation of antimatter made me want to learn more. According to Hanks, certainly a preeminent authority on antimatter -- antimatter's been made in the lab, the world survived, and now the antimatter is gone because nobody was around on christmas break to push the buttons on the machine keeping the antimatter in existence. This reminds me of LOST.

The explanation of antimatter that CERN (which somehow stands for the European Organization for Nuclear Research) has created around Hanks' movie Angels & Demons is rather informative and understandable. But since you might not be as intrigued as I am, allow me to excerpt:

In the intense heat of the Big Bang, particles of matter were forged out of pure energy. But for every particle of matter created, a 'twin' was also born - an 'antiparticle' identical in mass but with opposite electric charge.

Our world is made of matter, which consists of three types of particles called electrons, protons and neutrons. Each particle has a specific mass and electric charge. For example, the electron has a negative charge, and the proton a positive charge.

Antimatter particles have the same mass as the particles that make up our world, but carry the opposite charge. For example, the electron, which has a negative charge, has an antimatter 'twin' with the same mass but the opposite charge; we call the 'anti-electron' a positron.

Particles and antiparticles go together. Imagine sitting on a sandy beach. When you dig a hole, you also create a pile of sand. One cannot be made without making the other: they are complementary - just like particles and antiparticles.

So, that sandy beach metaphor was pretty effective in helping my understanding of antimatter along and it reminds me again of LOST.

Back to what Mr. Hanks said -- I looked it up and indeed CERN made and stored antimatter for a wee bit of time. But it takes a lot of work and energy (literally) to trap antimatter and keep it separated from matter. The world record for storing antiparticles is held by the TRAP experiment at CERN: it kept a single antiproton in a Penning trap for 57 days! The scientists performed very precise measurements of its mass and charge before the trap was switched off and the antiproton ... annihilated. Fun fact: The British scientist John Dalton (1766-1844) who developed the atomic theory of matter, kept a meterological journal for 57 years from 1787 to 1844 (disclosure: I have not verified this fun fact's veracity).

Doesn't all this talk of beaches and twins and pushing a button to keep something in existence (or at bay) make you think of LOST? Indeed, these people have speculated on antimatter theory and LOST. I agree with the person who commented on 8/26/08 and think more recent episodes definitely support antimatter experimentation theories. I also agree that people with a better understanding of particle physics should contribute to the body of LOST theories immediately and encourage them to use the comments section of this post to do so.

In conclusion, I hope this post becomes the definitive conversation on theories of LOST related to particle physics or something like that.

Suggested reading:
Thank you, Tom Hanks, for making antimatter matter to me and to my gentle readers. Also, thank you to the writers, cast and crew of the television show LOST. Last but not least, this post was brought to you by the number 57 and the letter L.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

dairying definitions

Today I believe I was served cream cheese with my tato skins. Curiosity ensued. After exhaustive research, I've concluded sour cream and cream cheese are really kissing cousins. If you peruse the bullets below you'll see the same raw ingredients and the same basic concept of taking cream and milk and culturing them. Add a little guar gum to get your desired consistency and ouhla you have either cream cheese or sour cream.

Sour cream:
  • True sour cream is a dairy product made primarily of cream. Adding bacteria derived from lactic acid makes sour cream sour. The bacteria essentially culture the cream, causing it to become thick and sour. Light sour cream is made with part cream and part milk. It often requires stabilizers in order to provide the desired thickness. Nonfat sour cream is made with nonfat milk and normally needs a significant amount of stabilizers like carrageenan and guar gum in order to replicate the thickness of true sour cream.
Cream cheese:
  • Cream cheese refers to the soft, spreadable white cheese that is consumed fresh. Cream cheese is made from a combination of cream and milk, and is not matured or hardened, as are other cheeses. Instead, it is slightly firmed by the introduction of lactic acid. Frequently, less expensive brands will add stabilizers like guar gum to get the necessary firmness, because the high fat content of the milk products is prone to separating.
  • Certain flavors of cream cheese are classified by the Food and Drug Administration not as cheeses, but as "cheese spreads," because their milk fat content is substantially lower than that of whole cheese. Cheese *spreads* are also wetter than cheese foods (my scientific way of saying "higher in moisture content"). Oh naughty!
I hope this becomes the definitive explanation of cream cheese vs. sour cream the world round!

I know we're all looking for the meaning of it all. I know our worlds will likely shatter if we discover that the only thing responsible for distinguishing between what goes on our potatoes and what goes on our bagels is guar gum. So I used my Wisconsin-bred brain to dig as deep as possible into the real MEANING of it ALL and here is what I think. I think that sour cream needs to reach an acidity of at least .05% and must contain at least 18% milk fat. I'm not sure if it takes 18 hours to reach .05% acidity (like Acidophilus Cultured Milk, incidentally cream cheese also takes 12+ hours to get cultured). I do know that Streptococcus lactis is the culture to be used for sour cream. Actually, turns out in 1985 Streptococcus lactis was reclassified to Lactococcus lactis. Knowing this may change your life...

Moving on, lactic acid is also used in making cream cheese. It's rather hard for me to grasp the nuances of the lactic acid bacteria group so follow that link to learn more. But I'm guessing there's no desired .o5% acidity or sour requirement for cream cheese. Also to be a cheese, I've inferred there is a minimun milkfat content requirement. Because you're counting on me, I've extensively reviewed federal guidelines regarding cheese identities to arrive at this vital information...cream cheese requires a minimum milkfat content of 33% by weight of the finished food and a maximum moisture content of 55% by weight. Aight?

Brief Bibliography:

I had to read way too much of 21 CFR 133 (see the link above about what cheese really really is) because the internet, as I have been saying, sucks these days. Case in point:

Your search - cheese+"minimum fat" - did not match any documents.


  • Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
  • Try different keywords.
  • Try more general keywords.
  • Try fewer keywords.

Friday, February 20, 2009

It's That Time Again

My Birthday Party"Because They Did It"
February 28th, 2009
My House

If you know where I live, you are invited.