The World Is Going To End and ...

by Bruce Simmons

In one of the most hair brained lawsuits and premises to be publicly presented in my, dare I say, entire life and here it is:

Critics of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland / France) filed a lawsuit in a Hawaiian court in March seeking to block its startup, alleging that there was "a significant risk that ... operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet."

Oh my word, is this not the best material for a movie or what?  Hey Jodie Foster, we have a sequel to Contact for you!

The Large Hadron Collider is a ring of supercooled magnets 17 miles in circumference attached to huge barrel-shaped particle detectors. The ring, which straddles the French and Swiss border, is buried 330 feet underground.

What it will do is help scientists study the fabric of our existence on a different level than has been possible up until now and after years of planning and construction, it is set to be turned on in August.  (Everyone better run... oh wait, never mind, the whole Earth is threatened.)

Scientists plan to look for clues to things such as "dark matter" and "dark energy" that make up more than 96 percent of the universe, and hope to glimpse the elusive Higgs boson, a so-far undiscovered particle thought to give matter its mass.  This could potentially set human history on it's new era of discovery and invention.

The threat that is supposedly posed by this Earth destroying machine is that it will generate energies seven times higher than its most powerful rival, at Fermilab near Chicago, and has been studied and debated for years. The estimate of the chance that the accelerator will create a global catastrophe is one in 50 million - long odds, to be sure, but about the same as winning some lotteries.

Here's the twist of it:  The LHC, when in operation, will produce the very same thing that occurs in nature every second, and has been going on for billions of years, and that's create collisions of atoms to study.  (If atoms is the right word here.)  Scientists pointed out that cosmic rays have been bombarding the earth, and triggering collisions similar to those planned for the collider, since the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.  And so far, the planet has survived.

So quit packing, we're going to be fine.  And if not, well, no one will remember I just said that.

The part that scares me is that the hype is being swallowed up my the reader of some of the media.  In a survey on the website I saw this, 61% of the respondents said the LHC is not worth the risk, and that 72% believed human action will destroy the earth before a natural disaster does.  (I checked the survey 24 hours later and the stats held to the same number, though the numbers of people voting increased by about 25%.  [250k+ voters] )

I'm with you on the human action belief, but it seems a bit knee jerk reaction to think that the LHC is a risk just because a SMALL group of people out of thousands have gone so far as to file a lawsuit.  A frivolous one at that.

I work with a bunch of intelligent guys, scientists, physicists etc and they concur that the hoopla is just noise and nothing to worry about.