Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....

Electron-positron annihilation

Natural radioactivity in the earth produces positrons, which are like electrons but have the opposite charge. A form of antimatter, positrons annihilate with electrons to produce gamma rays, a form of high-frequency light. Such a process would have been considered impossible before Einstein, because conservation of mass and energy were believed to be separate principles, and this process eliminates 100% of the original mass. The amount of energy produced by annihilating 1 kg of matter with 1 kg of antimatter is

which is on the same order of magnitude as a day's energy consumption for the entire world's population!

Positron annihilation forms the basis for the medical imaging technique called a PET (positron emission tomography) scan, in which a positronemitting chemical is injected into the patient and mapped by the emission of gamma rays from the parts of the body where it accumulates.

Last Update: 2009-06-21