Mental shift

Manage your mind and you can manage your life

UVM physicist: CERN study doesn’t pose danger

Posted by jytmkh on September 10, 2008


A cyclist passes by the wooden globe at the entrance of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday.
Photo: The Associated Press

Contrary to rumors, the world will not end today, according to Dennis Clougherty, chairman of the physics department at the University of Vermont.

Fear has spread to some extent — as scientists launch an experiment today in a 17-mile-long tunnel beneath the French-Swiss border in hopes of finding evidence of extra dimensions, invisible dark matter and an elusive particle called the “Higgs boson” — that the test will ultimately be the last on Earth.

Organized by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, recognized by its French acronym CERN, the Large Hadron Collider will re-enact the “Big Bang,” the theory that a colossal explosion created the cosmos, on a small scale.

Scientists hope the most expensive physics experiment in history, weighing in at approximately $10 billion, will help explain the origins of the universe.

Some skeptics have expressed concern to the media that the proton collisions could unleash microscopic black holes with a gravitational pull so strong they would suck in planets and stars.

In an e-mail, Clougherty said the world’s most powerful atom-smasher will do no such damage, but instead it will “usher in a ‘golden age’ in particle physics where some of the most fundamental questions confronting science will be finally answered.”

Clougherty said of the number of LHC studies in recent years that looked at safety issues, every potential danger was disqualified by thorough analysis.

The most recent study done by Dr. Steve Giddings, a former colleague of Clougherty’s, also dismissed the potential of Sept. 10 being the last day on Earth.

“(Giddings) concluded that the potential formation of microscopic black holes will pose no danger and that the related effects will have no significant consequences,” Clougherty said.

Clougherty pointed out that every day the atmosphere is “under bombardment with higher energy cosmic rays,” so if there were dangers from the experiment scientists would already know what they were.

Clougherty said he and the greater physics community are excited by the discoveries undoubtedly unleashed when the experiment is fully operational.

Some theorists have said the microscopic black holes produced by the LHC might be trapped inside the Earth’s gravitational field — eventually swallowing the planet.

CERN chief spokesman James Gillies told The Associated Press the theory is nonsense.

John Ellis, a British theoretical physicist at CERN, told The Associated Press that although theorists assume the collider will create microscopic black holes in the first place, it is unlikely. Ellis also said even if they did appear, the black holes would instantly evaporate.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at dawson.raspuzzi@rutlandherald.com.

rutland Herald

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