Proposing an Antimatter Hazard Symbol

6 05 2010

Proposed Antimatter Hazard Symbol. Credit: Me

As the most potent potential fuel we are familiar with at this stage in our development as a civilization, I think it’s time we talk about getting serious about Antimatter.

For those unfamiliar, Antimatter is atomically identical to normal matter, but electrically (and subatomically) backward.  Electrons become positrons, and protons become anti-protons, particles with opposite electrical charges.  (Think of flipping over the batteries in your remote control, so the “plus” side is now the “minus.”)  Anyway, when matter and antimatter interact, they are both completely anihillated and converted to pure energy in a release that makes nuclear warheads quake in their boots.  (Gene Roddenberry had it right 40 years ago when he powered his fictional interstellar craft with it.)

To this day, Antimatter is the only thing we know of that could power inter-star-system or galactic space transportation technology, real or imagined, and get the job done in a practical amount of time, (read: a single human lifetime).

This brings us to the present, where I currently find myself buried in 10 CFR 835 federal regulations for work.  They’re the regulations our government has put into place to protect workers and the public from sources of radiation and properly warn them of areas of radiation and radioactive contamination.  These rules relate heavily to symbology and the implementation of the familiar yellow-and-black radiation symbol.

You can see where this is going.  Should we decide to seriously consider Antimatter as the fuel (read: energy storage) source that it has the potential to be, we are going to need to seriously consider warning people about it.  The first step is creating a hazard identity.

There have been a couple of attempts at an Antimatter Hazard Symbol floating around the web, but I haven’t found that they adequately address the risks nor do they necessarily coincide with accepted symbology.  Why not start with something familiar?  I think the radiation tre-foil is panic-inducing enough to serve as an acceptable starting point…

So, the thought evolution of my proposed antimatter symbol is simple:

  • The trefoil already represents radiative energy from a point, so why not start there?  It’s already internationally recognizable.
  • Instead of one point in the symbol center, use two overlapping inverted-color circles, representing the interaction of matter and antimatter.
  • Instead of solid trefoil blades, bisect them to provide the visual appearance of even more energy released than radioactive matter.
  • Instead of yellow, a warning color, use red, a color associated with grave danger or death.  The background color doesn’t matter so much, as long as it provides a high contrast with the red.  I like navy, violet, or black.

And there you go.  People will get it, even if they aren’t specifically familiar.  It immediately looks like a radiation symbol, only worse.  Stay away.  Find someone who has proper instrumentation and knowhow before you start messing with whatever you’ve got in your hands with this symbol on it.

UPDATE 04/2012: For more info and subsequent uses of the symbol, click here!

Thoughts, anyone?

Better in black? (reader-suggested)

Second, modified example: (feel free to use any of these in your own projects/work!)

Credit: Ben McGee


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20 responses

7 05 2010
Willis Eschenbach

Astrowright, I note that you have commented on Stephen Goddard’s post, Hyperventilating on Venus.

I replied, thanking you for your post and asking several follow-up questions.

I also note that you have not answered. An answer would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks,

w.

PS – I like your anti-matter hazard symbol, it is well-designed and eye-catching.

Given that the total amount of antimatter produced in labs to date is enough to power a single light bulb for a few minutes, the present hazard seems small. However, science always advances …

7 05 2010
astrowright

Willis,

Thanks re: the antimatter symbol. I know people may see it as premature, but should we find a more efficient way of producing it in large quantities, (or simply a more efficient way of generating energy such that wasting 90% of it to create antimatter is no big deal,) we’ll be off to the races!

Re: your reply, I hadn’t even seen it when you wrote today, sorry. The comments are prolific. However, I found it and did my best to reply to your questions – and excellent questions, I might add! Comparative planetology is one of the coolest frontiers in science today, in my opinion. In many ways, having studied the atmospheres of other planets is the only reason we have any sense of how our own works at all. =)

Let me know if you have follow-on questions, and keep fighting the good fight!

`Ben

7 05 2010
Willis Eschenbach

Thanks, astrowright, much appreciated.

w.

7 05 2010
Willis Eschenbach

astrowright, the thing about antimatter is that it is not an energy source. Instead, like hydrogen or electricity, it can only be an energy transport medium … and considering the difficulty in transporting it is even greater than that of hydrogen, it will be a while before we see it being used.

But on the other hand, all we need is an antimatter mine (and antimatter miners with antimatter shovels) and we’re home free.

Thanks,

w.

7 05 2010
astrowright

W.

-Perhaps we’re arguing semantics here, but don’t we regularly refer to chemical batteries as sources of power to energize electronic equipment? In a technical sense, I see your point, but I think that’s a distinction not regularly made. And of course, once you have created an antimatter “battery,” upon reaction with matter, it would then very certainly become a source of energy. (Try standing next to it.)

And, yes, it’s difficult and expensive to run your antiproton decelerators and sustain Penning Traps, etc., etc., which is why I imagined some would see this as premature. -But I’d like to make the counter-case that difficulty doesn’t mean with a little push (a’ la Manhattan Project) it can’t be used as the core of a (space = microgravity) power system. It is difficult to manage uranium for reactors, too, but we’ve managed in a very short period of time to discover, refine, enrich, and take advantage of it as a power source.

Of course, the antimatter world with antimatter mines and miners would simplify things quite a bit. Especially if they’re anti-union. (ba doom boom ching)

Cheers,

Ben

11 06 2010
Ozone

Astro,

I was wondering if anyone had come up with a symbol for antimatter (star trek maybe) when I found your site. I did find another one that appeared in many locations, but I like yours better. My suggestions for “improvement” would be to somehow include in the center, a place for the atomic symbol of what type of antimatter is involved. As you know the symbol for antimatter is just the same symbol with a bar over the top. Perhaps the one you have created would be the generic symbol when the exact element is unknown, or maybe you could squeeze both of the symbols in the center somehow.

For more visual appeal I would also offset the bisection of the red arms to one side or the other. I have no scientific basis for this. I just think it would look cooler.

Finally, I am a real fan of the yellow and black theme since it is well established. Red is fine too, but I don’t like it on a blue background. Again, just my opinion and I’m certain others would disagree.

Hope this helps.

11 06 2010
astrowright

Ozone,

Thanks for your suggestions! I seem to remember spying in the newest Star Trek film what appeared be an antimatter symbol on huge tanks in the Enterprise’s engine room. If memory serves, the symbol was a modified “standard” radiation trefoil with large arrows pointing outward from the spaces between the foils, but other than that I can’t think of anything definite for competing symbols in the sci-fi spectrum.

As for including a specific antimatter element symbol, why not? I tend to think of these symbols as more general in nature, (e.g., our current radiation symbols don’t include which radioactive elements we’re dealing with – plutonium? harmless potassium?) but in my view more information is always better. Maybe that’s an idea current warning symbols should take to heart as well.

I wasn’t married to the dark blue background, either. (Ironically, it was intended as a throw-back to the original color scheme proposed for the radiation symbol back in the day.) It was my intent to differentiate antimatter from “normal” radiation at a glance, so I’d like to avoid the exact same color scheme, (and red seems more serious than yellow,) but maybe you’re right that a black background is really the way to go.

This most certainly helps! Thanks sincerely for reading and commenting!

30 06 2010
Ozone

I like the black a lot better!

The suggestion for which element the antimatter is based on actually came from real warning symbols, but chemical warnings, not radiation warnings.

You can see some ideas I had at the following links, although now that I look at them, I think maybe bisected is better.

I think it’s really cool that you created this.

11 07 2010
Lars Eggert Pick up Artist

nice!

3 01 2011
Astrowright blog: 2010 in review « Astrowright

[…] Proposing an Antimatter Hazard Symbol May 2010 9 comments […]

1 10 2011
Summer Hits: Martian Water, Asteroid Nukes, Orbital Antimatter! « Astrowright

[…] with the Earth’s atmosphere can produce infinitesimal and ordinarily short-lived bursts of antimatter.  These antiparticles normally react with standard matter present around the Earth and […]

26 10 2011
Antimatter Hazard Symbol finds early adopters! « Astrowright

[…] who have been long-time readers will remember a proposition I made for an antimatter hazard symbol (otherwise and less formally called a “warning sign”) back in May of 2010, which was […]

11 12 2011
Shark

Good luck, your hazard symbol is awesome, personally I love it and may consider it for a tattoo, I’m fascinated by the study of antimatter, thanks again for the interesting read…

22 02 2012
Benjamin Swem

I like you symbol for warning of anti-matter and I would like your permission to use it on a virtual product I am developing in the virtual world of Second Life. This product would be an anti-matter containment pod.

23 02 2012
astrowright

Benjamin,

By all means – I would be pleased for you to use the symbol! All I ask is that when you finish the antimatter containment pod, please email me a screen grab of the logo in action on your pod for my records. timescientist at gmail dot com is a suitable email for you to use. Thanks for reading and for promoting the symbol!

Cheers,
Ben

18 04 2012
Antimatter Hazard Symbol pops up! « Astrowright

[…] red-letter day!  The Antimatter Hazard Symbol I proposed nearly two years ago has found its first physical […]

30 04 2012
Dave

Nice symbols!

15 05 2012
Canyon Club

read more…

[…]just below, are some totally unrelated sites to ours, however, they are definitely worth checking out[…]…

19 03 2014
Chris Gutzman

Here’s my version of your symbol… in the black-and-red “warning label” form that would be painted onto anything carrying Antimatter.

http://aliensquid.deviantart.com/art/Antimatter-Warning-Label-441475085

19 03 2014
Krahazik Dragon

I like what you have done for the sign in your version. Great work.

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