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Wednesday, 10 September 2008

D:REAMs and conCERNs

The Big Bang and all that!

About now, the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, is powering up to First Beam for what’s been described as either the beginning of a great era of discovery for humankind or the end of the world!

The experiment will fire two beams of subatomic particles around a 17-mile circuit in opposite directions, smashing them into each other. The aim is to produce enough energy to recreate the conditions that existed immediately after the Big Bang, in order to, among other things, detect the existence of the Higgs boson – the so-called God particle – and to try to explain such phenomena as the nature of dark matter.

The LHC has been built at a cost of almost £5 billion ($9 billion) and has generated a massive amount of interest around the world. Most scientists and physicists are very excited about the project, while others have criticised it.

The UK’s former chief science adviser, David King, believes the LHC has diverted top scientists away from tackling the more pressing issues of the time, such as climate change.

Some people have questioned the cost to the taxpayer. However, it’s worth remembering that because CERN scientists wanted a better means of communicating with each other around the world, they created the World Wide Web – then gave the technology away – free!

And a few scientists are concerned that the collider will produce black holes that will grow out of control and eat up the planet from the inside. In Honolulu, as reported in March of this year in the Honolulu Advertiser, and picked up by the press worldwide, Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho have even filed a lawsuit against CERN, claiming that they haven’t carried out adequate research into the safety implications of the experiment.

However, scientists working for CERN – and there are some 10,000 of them! – say they have reviewed all the evidence and concluded that it poses no risk to the universe.

According to this piece in the Independent, Dr James Gillies, a particle physicist and LHC spokesperson:

There’s nothing to worry about, the LHC is absolutely safe, because we have observed nature doing the same things the LHC will do. Protons regularly collide in the earth's upper atmosphere without creating black holes.

What we are looking at is a global community representing 10,000 people working in 500 universities in 80 countries, none of whom has the slightest worry about risks of this kind. Then we have a retired German chemist who has never published a paper in this field in his life, who has come up with this theory.

We are very excited about the project, we hope to learn more about this wonderful universe of ours.

Meanwhile, the former D:REAM musician-turned-physicist, Professor Brian Cox, speaking in the current issue of the Radio Times, is a little more forthright in his opinion of the doubters:

The nonsense you find on the web about “doomsday scenarios” is conspiracy theory rubbish generated by a small group of nutters, primarily on the other side of the Atlantic. These people also think that the Theory of Relativity is a Jewish conspiracy and that America didn’t land on the Moon. Both are more likely, by the way, than the LHC destroying the world. I’m slightly irritated, because this non-story is symptomatic of a larger mistrust in science, particularly in the US, which includes things like intelligent design.

Throughout the day, BBC Radio 4’s Big Bang Day will broadcast a galaxy of programmes – news items, documentaries and dramas, including a special radio edition of the TV sci-fi show Torchwood, “Lost Souls”, starring John Barrowman (as Captain Jack Harkness). Interestingly, Barrowman will be enthusing to Cox about the LHC this morning on Physics Rocks, while, in the Doctor Who spin-off this afternoon, his fictional counterpart will be warning of one of those “doomsday scenarios” Cox talks about!

Anyway, if you’ve read this, presumably everything has gone to plan!

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