WSU physicist beams down to 73rd sci-fi convention this week

By Linda Weiford, WSU News


PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University physicist Marc Weber will boldly go where he has not gone before – to address an audience at the Super Bowl of science fiction conventions.

The 73rd annual WorldCon, which runs Aug. 19-23, is expected to draw more than 5,000 sci-fi attendees to the Spokane (Wash.) Convention Center. Held in London last year, the event features workshops, panel presentations and an impressive roster of guests of honor. It also awards writers of the genre with the esteemed Hugo Award.

WSU physicist Marc Weber will talk about fueling interstellar journeys with antimatter at the WorldCon sci-fi convention in Spokane this week. (Photo by Robert Hubner, WSU Photo Services)

“I’m excited, nervous and honored,” said Weber, who will talk on “Antimatter in Science: A journey from detecting nothing to reaching the stars,” on Saturday when the convention spotlights scientific subjects ranging from black holes to futuristic aging.

“A lot of science fiction is derived from the facts of science, so my topic fits right in,” he said.

Harnessing the power of antimatter

Similar to the starship Enterprise technology portrayed in Star Trek, the work Weber does at WSU’s Center for Materials Research could one day help fuel space travel. As he’ll explain during his talk, antimatter is an ideal form of rocket propulsion. That’s because when antimatter reacts with matter, the particles explode, creating the most powerful energy source known.

He and his colleagues are developing a way to harness and store antimatter particles called positrons.

“Instead of using thousands of metric tons of chemical fuel to get the Space Shuttle to the stars, only a fraction of a gram of antimatter would be needed for propulsion,” he said. “That’s equivalent to a few grains of sand.”

Because antimatter and its regular counterpart explode upon contact, the challenge for Weber and his colleagues is to find a way to harness antimatter and safely contain the particles for transport. They’ve designed a prototype device where the positrons are stored in tiny straw-like tubes and held in place by magnetic fields.

Futuristic aging, economy

Also at the WorldCon convention, Matthew Duez, WSU assistant professor of physics and astronomy, will showcase black hole research and exploration, topping it off with a video of his black hole-neutron star collision simulations.

Matthew Duez

“I’ve decided to regard myself as a sort of ambassador from the whole gravitational physics community, meaning I’ll talk about what a big decade researchers are expecting this to be,” he explained.

WorldCon is given a distinctive name each year. The 73rd event is called “Sasquan,” a blend of Sasquatch and convention. Learn more at


Marc Weber, WSU physicist, 509-335-7872,
Linda Weiford, WSU News, 509-335-7209,