Antimatter Hazard Symbol pops up!

18 04 2012

Antimatter containment pod as rendered in Second Life. Note the triangular Antimatter Hazard Symbol at left. (Image credit: Benjamin Swem; Symbol credit: Ben McGee)

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

…Well, pseudo-physical, anyway.

While the symbol, (which is based on internationally-accepted color coding in combination with Title 10 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Part 835, Subpart G posting guidelines,) has found its way into online articles here-and-there, it hadn’t found it’s way onto something more substantial until now.

Second view of the antimatter containment pod as rendered in Second Life. Note the triangular Antimatter Hazard Symbol at left. (Image credit: Benjamin Swem; Symbol credit: Ben McGee)

Benjamin Swem, a Second Life user also known as Krahazik Zaytsev, recently asked my permission to use the symbol.  His application?  In true, classical science-fiction fashion, it was to be affixed to an antimatter containment pod powering a fictitious spacecraft he was in the process of creating to sell in-world.

I’m must say I’m quite pleased with the result.

The symbol, for those who hadn’t seen my original proposal, is a modification of the familiar radiation “trefoil,” replacing the “caution” yellow-and-black coloring with the more threatening “danger” red-and-black.  Each of the radiation “foils” has been bisected to impart the concept of additional energy, the foils themselves have been inverted to further distinguish it from a “ordinary” radiation trefoil, and the center of the symbol is two inverted circles overlapping (instead of one circle) to represent the interaction of matter with antimatter. 

Instantly familiar, intuitive, yet more ominous is what I was after.  (A symbol doesn’t do anyone any good if no one recognizes it, so why not leverage existing symbology as an advantage?)

  • *For the scientifically-inclined, the radiation symbol is also very technically-accurate one.  Considering the actual threats posed by antimatter, a primary danger of proximity to annihilating antimatter (even in storage systems!) is from gamma-rays emitted as particles and anti-particles collide.  For electrons and positrons, this energy is a gamma-ray with peak energy observed at 511 keV, which can penetrate even very thick shielding.  (We actually use the annihilation of naturally-occuring positrons to help calibrate our instruments, so make no mistake, antimatter exists! – Just naturally in small enough quantities that it doesn’t really cause any negative effects.)

Admittedly, it’s a bit early to be terribly concerned with protecting the public from incidental encounters with antimatter – but thinking about it ahead-of-time can’t hurt.

And in fact, with the relatively-recent discovery of natural sources of antimatter, we may develop the ability to amass stores of the material sooner than we imagined.

So, feel free to use the hazard symbol as you wish; All I ask is that you just let me know how you intend to use it and send me a link or image of the result!

Proposed Antimatter Hazard Symbol, modeled after 10 CFR 835 requirements for Radiation labeling and posting. (Credit: Ben McGee)


Antimatter Hazard Symbol finds early adopters!

26 10 2011

Credit: Ben McGee

Those 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 based on currently-accepted international hazard symbology and color schemes. 

Well, to date, I am excited to report that the symbol has found some early adopters across the cyberverse.  Foremost amongst these is the website,, who made a stab at a somewhat technical, somewhat tongue-in-cheek article featuring the symbol last June.

Image credit: Armando/Redcrow Design, utilizing antimatter hazard symbol credit: Ben McGee

Much earlier, (a year ago last November,) the site “” incorporated the symbol into a fairly fantastic, paranoid montage with a nuclear mushroom cloud (at right) cresting a somewhat crass article about the potential development of antimatter weaponry. 

Patently alarmist, and the color scheme was artistically distorted, but still a cool image.

Finally, in August, a blog called “AngelsDoSpeak” included the symbol in a breakdown of potential nuclear fallout or activity symbols.  (The purpose of the symbol’s inclusion here on a religious site was a little confusing or perhaps ominous, but I’m happy with adopters all the same.)

While I should note that there have been other internet-promoted proposals for an antimatter hazard symbol, I feel quite strongly (based on my current work in the radiological protection industry) that instead of attempting to promote a new glyph or design into the hazard iconograhy pantheon, any antimatter symbol should derive from internationally-recognized symbology already in place.  This symbol should then simply be evolved/modified to capture antimatter’s potential hazard as a highly-reactive source of radiative energy, which I believe the above symbol does quite nicely.

-And while this effort is admittedly precautionary, the recent discovery that the Earth’s magnetic field traps naturally-ocurring antiprotons into a belt (a la the Van Allen Radiation Belts) may make orbital harvesting of antimatter a plausible pursuit.

In any case, feel free to promote the hazard symbol or use in your own projects or research if you so desire, and as always, comments are welcome.

A Radioactive Astronaut-Hopeful (Space update)

20 11 2010

Me probing an old military well in the Nevada wilderness for geologic data.

By education and trade, I’m a geologist, having worked now in the professional world for more than six years getting my boots dirty performing hydrogeology, water resources, drilling, geomorphology research, and environmental contaminant transport and remediation work in some of the most remote territory this country has to offer.  However, in my push toward becoming an astronaut, one may wonder why I suddenly think it’s a good idea to be working as a radiological engineer and pursuing graduate work in Radiation Health Physics (in addition to my Space Studies work at UND).

Why not study something more direct, like Planetary Geology (Astrogeology)?

The answer, while seemingly obscure, is simple:  What does geology, outer space, the Moon’s surface, Mars’s surface, and advanced spacecraft power and propulsion systems all have in common?  Radioactivity.

Boltwoodite and Torbernite, uranium-bearing mineral samples. (Credit: Ben McGee)

On Earth, (and other heavy rocky bodies,) radioactivity is a natural occurrence.  Plants (and even human beings) all beam out radioactive gamma rays from a natural isotope of Potassium.  (This is prevalent enough that you can calibrate your instruments to it in the wild.)  Even more to the point, radioactive Uranium and Thorium are more common in the Earth’s crust than Gold or Silver.  These elements are crucial to determining the ages of rocks.

Now, go farther.  As we move outside the Earth’s protective magnetic field, (i.e., orbit, Moon, Mars, and everything beyond and in-betwixt,) cosmic and solar radiation are essentially the greatest hazards an astronaut may face.  Radiation shielding and measurement are of primary importance.

Illustration of a manned NTR exploration spacecraft and landing capsule in Mars orbit. (Credit: Douglas/Time Magazine, 1963)

Farther still, once a spacecraft travels beyond about Mars, the intensity of sunlight is such that solar panels are inadequate to supply necessary power.  Nuclear reactors, (Radioisotope-Thermoelectric Generators, or RTGs,) are necessary.

Plus, in order to get out that far (to Mars or beyond) in a reasonable amount of time, our chemical rockets won’t provide enough kick.  Instead, Nuclear Thermal Rockets (NTRs) are about the most efficient way to go, something I’m in the midst of researching in earnest.

Hence, in addition to having experience as a field geologist (for future visits to the Moon, Mars, asteroids, etc.,) being trained to swing a radiation detector around, understanding the exact hazards radiation poses and how it works, and knowing your way around a nuclear reactor are all uniquely suited to space exploration.

Admittedly, it’s an unconventional path, but it’s my path: Riding gamma rays to the stars.

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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