Smashing News

View of LHC

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the particle accelerator whose mission is to recreate the universe at one trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, went online last September. For 9 days, its proton beams made successful circuits of the accelerator's main ring. Then its operators discovered a critical flaw in the powerful magnets that bend the beams. It will take a year to fix the damage and build in needed safety features.

The prolonged delay in the LHC slate of experiments gives us a good deal of time to think about what is in store at this enclave on the border of Switzerland and France. For one thing, we know that the staff there expects to find particles in the proton debris that no one has detected before—antimatter, for example, and a theoretical thingie called a Higgs boson. Antimatter is not conducive to good health, since it anihilates matter, the stuff of our physical existence. Higgs bosons are like midwives; through their mediation, other particles acquire their masses. (So how do Higgs bosons acquire their mass? It's the same question as "Who created God?") To make it all scarier, dark matter and dark energy might also make an appearance.

Of course, everyone at the LHC pooh-poohs the possibility of danger; otherwise, they would be elsewhere. This assures me of nothing. I can't help but recall that the physicists on the Manhatten Project were making bets on the power of the a-bomb as they fastened their goggles to watch the first test from afar. Some bet on nothing more than a good tremor. Some bet that the Earth's atmosphere would be ripped away. They just didn't know.

I'm not terrified, but I do wonder where the authority to conduct such experiments comes from. It's stunning that the nations of the world can't agree on how to mitigate an economic calamity, yet a group of international physicists can get the money to build and run a Big Bang machine without political consent. I guess the bigger the risk, the smaller the need for consent.

Related Links

LHC entry on Wikipwedia
LHC homepage
Has the LHC destroyed the world yet?


Last updated on March 20, 2009.
Created and maintained by Ken Marks at