Atom Wave: Particle Intersections in Legal Time

Atom Wave

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Particle Intersections in Legal Time

In the many centuries since the rise of science, our modern civilization has come to realize many wonders. With the emergence of modern technology we routinely encounter objects more magical than the burning bush. In this realm scientists are currently completing final assembly of a new particle accelerator at CERN known as the Large Hadron Collider. This collider has been under construction in some form for the last 14 years and is worth at minimum $8 billion dollars. It promises to revolutionize particle physics by re-creating particle energies rare in the cosmos.

But two men from Hawaii have other plans. Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho are suing to shut down the project on the allegation that the accelerator might destroy the world, as we know it. They suspect that the accelerator might be capable of producing a miniature black hole, strangelet, or some damn thing that would consume all matter on Earth. They want CERN to submit a complete environmental statement before they even consider switching it on.



Now the last time I checked, Switzerland where CERN is headquartered, does not answer to the Hawaiian or federal government. While that is correct, Fermilab and the Department of Energy do, and they supply critical parts for the project.

In defense of CERN, the probabilities that an unsatisfying event might occur are exceedingly narrow. Nature routinely cooks up energies far higher than this machine could produce in the form of high-energy cosmic rays from black holes, neutron stars, and supernova. While still debated, Hawking radiation should rapidly destroy any black holes that are produced. Strange matter is still hypothetical and is likely unstable anyway under ambient conditions.

On the other hand, maybe they are right. One of the majesties of science is that you never really know until you run the test. You just can’t publish if your dead.

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