06 July 2006

Angels and Demons the Comedy

I've just started reading Angels and Demons, the supposedly better novel as compared to the insanely popular The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. When I flipped to the first text of interest, a capitalised subtitle proclaiming "FACT" appeared followed by a few paragraphs of words, which I've reproduced here:


The world's largest scientific research facility - Switzerland's Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) - recently succeeded in producing the first particles of antimatter. Antimatter is identical to physical matter except that it is composed of particles whose electric charges are opposite to those found in normal matter.

Antimatter is the most powerful energy source known to man. It releases energy with 100 per cent efficiency (nuclear fission is 1.5 per cent efficient). Antimatter creates no pollution or radiation, and a droplet could power New York City for a full day.

There is, however, one catch...

Antimatter is highly unstable. It ignites when it comes in contact with absolutely anything... even air. A single gram of antimatter contains the energy of a 20-kiloton nuclear bomb - the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Until recently antimatter has been created only in very small amounts (a few atoms at a time). But CERN has now broken ground on its new Antiproton Decelerator - an advanced antimatter production facility that promises to create antimatter in much larger quantities.

One question looms: Will this highly volatile substance save the world, or will it be used to create the most deadly weapon ever made?

The first thing that struck me was that the above "facts" are so ridiculous that I wanted to shove a banana up my ass (which I didn't because of the lack of bananas). It is teeming with factual and scientific error that I wonder if the author did much research into these "facts" or not (because some of them don't even affect the storyline if it was corrected).

For example, while I'm very certain that, after the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider in the US, CERN is the world's largest particle physics research facility today, I think it is debatable whether it can be considered the "world's largest scientific research facility". In fact, it's not even owned by Switzerland alone (simply because the costs of building and maintaining it are so unbearably huge that selling chocolate alone can't possibly make up for it); it's only located there.

Also, antiparticles has been produced for a large part of the 20th century. Positrons (antiparticles of electrons) are the first to be produced in the 1930s. It is only antihydrogens (a positron orbiting an antiproton) that has been produced recently.

In addition, the way he described the 100% energy efficiency... I can say that, by the same logic, all other energy sources are also 100% efficiency, by the principle of conservation of mass-energy. The question is, how efficient is the turbine generator that is going to convert this "100% efficient" energy from heat/light to electrical energy?

One last major flaw I'd like to point out of his "facts" is drawn from the principle of conservation of mass-energy again. Now, antimatter, for obvious reasons, doesn't exist in our natural environment. In fact, the absence of antimatter is one of the greatest puzzle in physics; this problem is called baryongenesis or baryon asymmetry. (It is worth mentioning, though probably irrelevant, that, mathematically, we can treat antiparticles travelling forward in time as particles travelling backward in time.) In that case, we will need to find a source of antimatter, which means we need to put energy into its creation. By the abovementioned principle, this energy has to be at least what we can get back when we annihilate the antimatter. So it is not really a source of energy, unless someday some NASA spaceship encounters some huge lump of antimatter happily drifting in space, which is of course by then too late.

In fact, I found the first one-third of the novel a huge comedy. It was extremely apparent that Dan Brown has as much knowledge of physics as a toothpick. I'm not sure if he knew this or not, but it might delight him that there is something called a God particle and a Oh-My-God particle.

Nonetheless, I found the remaining of the novel (I'm about halfway through) pretty good. Ignoring the gross factual errors, this novel does have that tight grip and intense action that keeps one from stopping. It's definitely great as entertainment, and a brilliant piece of mystery and thriller (as well as comedy to me).


The Negative Man said...

It shames me to say this, but a significant reason behind me reading the book then was for the pictures (aka the ambigrams).

Anyway it's somewhat amusing to see a scientist rather than a theologian point out the 'factual errors' of the book. Hmm.

Pandemonium said...

Yep, the ambigram is rather an amazement, especially the Illuminati Diamond. However, I have the feeling that the difficulty of designing an ambigram is rather exaggerated in the book so as to give the "undeniable" proof of the emergence of the Illuminati.

Heh heh, I'm pointing these errors out simply because, firstly, Demons and Angels touch on what I'm quite familiar with. Secondly, I can recognise most of the factual errors almost immediately. As for the theological errors in the book, I'll leave it up to the Vatican to ban the book.