Blog powered by Typepad

« Story time | Main | The bear facts »


I'm glad you wrote this. I think some people are overly paranoid over the LHC.

Renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has bet 100 dollars (70 euros) that a mega-experiment this week will not find an elusive particle seen as a holy grail of cosmic science, he said Tuesday.

In the most complex scientific experiment ever undertaken, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be switched on Wednesday, accelerating sub-atomic particles to nearly the speed of light before smashing them together.

"The LHC will increase the energy at which we can study particle interactions by a factor of four. According to present thinking, this should be enough to discover the Higgs particle," Hawking told BBC radio.

"I think it will be much more exciting if we don't find the Higgs. That will show something is wrong, and we need to think again. I have a bet of 100 dollars that we won't find the Higgs," added Hawking, whose books including "A Brief History of Time" have sought to popularise study of stellar physics.

On Wednesday the first protons will be injected into a 27-kilometre (16.9-mile) ring-shaped tunnel, straddling the Swiss-French border at the headquarters of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN).

Physicists have long puzzled over how particles acquire mass. In 1964, a British physicist, Peter Higgs, came up with this idea: there must exist a background field that would act rather like treacle.

Some scientists were however more optimistic.

Hubert Reeves, the French astrophysician, told the Swiss daily Le Matin that the invention could bring "unexpected results" that would change the world of particle physics forever.

"This machine will probably bring unexpected results that could turn particle physics on its head," Reeves said.

"It's a really impressive tool. It can go as deep underground as the length of a cathedral," he said.

Particles passing through it would acquire mass by being dragged through a mediator, which theoreticians dubbed the Higgs Boson.

The standard quip about the Higgs is that it is the "God Particle" -- it is everywhere but remains frustratingly elusive.

While questioning the likelihood of finding Higgs Bosons, Hawking said the experiment could discover superpartners, particles that would be "supersymmetric partners" to particles already known about.

"Their existence would be a key confirmation of string theory, and they could make up the mysterious dark matter that holds galaxies together," he told the BBC.

"Whatever the LHC finds, or fails to find, the results will tell us a lot about the structure of the universe," he added.

Hawking, the 66-year-old Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, was diagnosed with the muscle-wasting motor neuron disease at the age of 22.

He is in a wheelchair and speaks with the aid of a computer and voice synthesiser.

I hadn’t been keeping up with this, but if Hawking is opting for String theory, the standard model must be in big trouble.

I'm surprised there is a serious debate about MBHs. I thought the threat from them was an invention of fundamentalist Christians, who like to look for as many ways as they can to end the world.

Allowing that I am another layman, I'm hoping they find something that shoots all their theories to heck! There are a few fundamaterialist bubbles out there in need of bursting :oD

Very well summarized piece of information.
By the time you get this far into the sciences most lay people are out of their depth and have a tendency to be very fearful of any expanded knowledge. Isaac Asimov called this the Frankenstein Reaction. If many people had their way we'd still be riding horses, dying of small pox and burning witches.

Michael, I had been following the argument for a couple of years. What annoys me about it is that those who are saying that mini black hole danger is a "ridiculous" suggestion don't acknowledge that the point about neutron stars as a conclusive argument against the danger was only published in June 2008! Prior to that, the initial safety reviews were mainly based on the assumption that Hawking Radiation would mean mini black holes evaporate instantaneously. Some people (like me) complained that this is not a safe assumption, as it has never been observed, and at least a couple of physicists from time to time had questioned whether it might exist at all.

Finally, they got around to doing the work to show that neutron stars indicate that they must not be danger. Fine, but don't now go calling those who brought up the issue a bunch of idiots (as some science journalists, and some physicists, have.)

I personally still doubt that the physicists involved have considered all possible sources of danger. I think the mini black hole eating the planet idea probably has been conclusively answered, but I note that Rainer Plaga, a well published astrophysicist, wrote in August that under some models, Hawking Radiation could make a mini black hole work like an atomic bomb. The CERN physicists came back and said he made a fundamental mistake; I emailed Plaga and he says he is working on a response. He appears not to be readily acknowledging a mistake. I don't think he is a nutter, and trust him more than Rossler, who is the only scientist who continues to argue that micro black holes may eat the earth on a time scale that matters.

Even if Plaga is proved wrong, I have read at arxiv that "naked singularities" might also be produced by the LHC, and their behaviour seems unknown, as far as I can tell. (Of course, the argument that some may be being produced naturally by cosmic rays and aren't blowing up stars and planets could also be the answer, but it still makes me a little uncomfortable if a slow moving one was created near earth.)

The nagging worry that I have is that the LHC, or its successor, might be capable of intermittently creating something that is dangerous just at a planetary level, and if so this level of technology might be a very handy explanation for the Fermi paradox.

The comments to this entry are closed.