The $8B USD Large Hadron Collider will go online next week, becoming the world's most powerful particle accelerator. It promises answer to some of the universe's most elusive questions. Among these is the nature of the legendary Higgs boson, a particle long theorized but never observed, which is thought to determine how much things weigh. The collider, which consists of 7 TeV proton beams harnessed by electromagnets to collide within a 27 km (17 mi) circular tunnel, is expected to unlock many other mysteries such as the differences between matter and antimatter.
However, despite its great promise, many people worldwide have protested the construction of the particle accelerator, believing it could end the world. Many are fearful that the collider could spawn black holes, which they worry could devour the Earth. The creators of the LHC, some of the world's foremost scientists, say such concerns are unfounded and convey a lack of understanding about the project.
According to Professor Brian Cox of Manchester University, the public animosity is so severe that American Nobel prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has received death threats. Professor Cox, typically sedate, adds irritatingly, "Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a t---. "
James Gillies, the LHC head of public relations says he's gotten calls from people literally sobbing and asking him to halt the project. He states, "They phone me and say: ‘I am seriously worried. Please tell me that my children are safe.’"
While some merely beg Mr. Gillies to convince them that the world is not going to end when the LHC is turned on, he says other take a angrier stance. He states, "There are a number who say: 'You are evil and dangerous and you are going to destroy the world.' I find myself getting slightly angry, not because people are getting in touch but the fact they have been driven to do that by what is nonsense. What we are doing is enriching humanity, not putting it at risk."
There have also been numerous legal attempts to thwart construction, none of which have succeeded. Doomsday predictors argue that there is a small but serious chance the LHC will breed a cataclysm that could kill the world. Since 1994, when the project was first envisioned, they have fought it. They frequently quote Our Final Century?: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-first Century? - written by Lord Rees, astronomer royal and president of the Royal Society The only problem is that Lord Rees says his book is not being quoted accurately, stating, "My book has been misquoted in one or two places. I would refer you to the up-to-date safety study."
Scientists have patiently explained to those concerned many times that the most recent research shows that cosmic rays hitting the Earth daily have more powerful particle collisions than the LHC would. Thus the added danger of the collider is negligible according to an updated 2003 study from the LHC Safety Assessment Group. It dispels worries that the reactor might create a deadly black hole. It concludes, "Nature has already conducted the equivalent of about a hundred thousand LHC experimental programmes on Earth - and the planet still exists."
While the reactor could produce black holes, according to physicists, they would be tiny and would not be capable of growing. The study states, "Each collision of a pair of protons in the LHC will release an amount of energy comparable to that of two colliding mosquitoes, so any black hole produced would be much smaller than those known to astrophysicists."
Further, the LHC will be incapable of producing possibly dangerous strangelets, based on experimental information gathered at the Brookhaven National Laboratory's Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider, New York.
However, despite the world's top scientists confident in the system's safety, and the news media constantly seeking to sooth public concerns on the topic, many still remain vocally opposed to the project.