The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is set to go online in May of this year. This magnificent machine will accelerate particles and collide them at such high energies that scientists expect to make some of the biggest discoveries ever about the very small (exotic sub-atomic particles) and the very large (the structure of the Universe itself).
But not everyone is happy. Particle accelerators have always been the source of controversy; at the end of the day, we can only predict the outcome of the LHC experiments. But what if scientists have overlooked something? What if the theories are wrong? A guy living on the other side of the planet to the LHC believes the world may come to an end and he’s begun filing a lawsuit against the completion of the accelerator. The concern? A massive black hole might be created, or vast amounts of antimatter will destroy the Earth. And where’s the scientificÂ basis for allÂ this panic? Hmmm… didn’t think so…
Through fear that the LHC is going to unleash death and destruction on the world, Walter Wagner from Hawaii has filed a lawsuit against an impressive array of defendants. The U.S. Department of Energy, the Fermilab particle-accelerator near Chicago, CERN and the National Science Foundation (NSF) are all named.
Wagner and his associate Luis Sancho have a pretty dubious (and quite frankly, weak) argument against the LHC, as they describe in the lawsuit:
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“The compression of the two atoms colliding together at nearly light speed will cause an irreversible implosion, forming a miniature version of a giant black hole. […] Any matter coming into contact with it would fall into it and never be able to escape. Eventually, all of earth would fall into such growing micro-black-hole, converting earth into a medium-sized black hole, around which would continue to orbit the moon, satellites, the ISS, etc.” Walter F. Wagner and Luis Sancho lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.
There is no evidence to suggest that colliding particles will create a black hole that will swallow the planet. I do however like their description that the International Space Station will continue to orbit the Earth-mass black hole – at least we’ll have somewhere to hide as the rampaging black hole eats the ground from under us!
The credentials of the plaintiffs are also pretty sketchy. Wagner has worked in nuclear medicine and has a minor degree in physics from Berkley, but he has nothing more advanced than that. His colleague Sancho has an even more sketchy physics background.
Wagner wants the opening of the LHC to be delayed until further safety studies are carried out. Its cases like these that scientists have had to combat for many years. Unfounded predictions of the “end of the world” and fear of the unknown have been published only to be debunked through correct scientific thinking. If the world listened to alarmists such as Wagner and co, weÂ would advance no further.
I for one hope that the LHC does produce micro-black holes. I hope that this time next year we’ll be looking in awe at images of particle tracks from the sensors at the LHC showing the point of creation and the point of evaporation of micro-black holes. Peering very closely we see particle emission as if from nowhere, the evaporating particles from the tiny event horizon. The image will be entitled Hawking Radiation Experiment.
Even if the accelerator energies are not high enough to create mini-black holes, thereby giving Stephen Hawking some experimental evidence for his radiation, we are pretty sure we’ll find some other exotic and exciting particles to help us understand our universe a little bit better. We might gain a better grasp of other dimensions, detect some exotic particles, and lets not forget the possibility of discovering the Higgs Boson.
If we give into the fear of the unknown, scientific advancement will be stopped in its tracks and we may be restricted to scratching at the surface of space-time and string theory, rather than physically proving its existence with tools like the LHC.