Early next year, the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will finally commence operation. Buried 100 meters underground near the French-Swiss border, this particle accelerator will send subatomic particles crashing headlong into one another at near light-speed. The resulting high-energy collisions will liberate new particles and illuminate states of matter not seen since the first moments of the universe. Oh, and another thing: This device will spawn a rampant planet-gulping black hole that will devour the Earth and destroy humanity forever.
Doomsdayers love particle accelerators. The winning combination of giant machinery, impenetrable quantum jargon and colossal amounts of energy seems to inspire the most vivid predictions of calamity this side of an Al Gore telethon.
In 1995, for instance, University of Hawaii professor Paul Dixon picketed the Fermilab collider in Batavia, Ill. to protest the coming “quantum vacuum collapse” — a doomsday event that would allegedly send a wave of destruction hurtling outwards at the speed of light and obliterate all matter in the universe. In late 1999, just before the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) opened at Brookhaven National Labs on Long Island, The Sunday Times ran a story entitled “Big Bang Machine Could Destroy Earth.” This thoughtful article cautioned that activating RHIC might spawn a thirsty black hole that would tunnel to the Earth’s core and blast our planet to bits.
These examples serve to illuminate a fundamental truth of subatomic physics: Namely, that the opening of a new particle collider will always be accompanied by dramatic prophecies of world destruction.
When it comes online next spring, the LHC will be the most powerful particle accelerator yet. In a world where higher energy equals more planet-killing terror, this device should invite the most colorful predictions yet.
I scanned the newswires for any warning of impending apocalypse, but the harvest was disappointing. Sure, there’s that asteroid set to obliterate the Earth in 200 years, and the global warming shills are doing their very best to alarm the public; but the new particle collider? Not a peep.
How can this be? Here we have perhaps the most egregious threat to the fabric of our universe – this great steel trumpet of doom, this drink in the face of the Natural Order — and the gloom merchants drop the ball?
This simply will not do. The masses need their fear.
Someone needs to cry wolf about this latest, greatest particle accelerator, and it might as well be me. So here goes: The LHC will devastate humanity.
How? Ask any gamer. Thanks to “Doom” and “Quake,” the consequences of quantum catastrophe are well known. In fact, what will happen in Geneva next spring has been handily presaged by just about every sci-fi first-person-shooter game ever made. In short: A miscalculation by well-meaning but overconfident scientists will cause a rift in the space-time continuum, opening a dimensional portal and scattering Cyclops, medkits and zombies with rocket launchers throughout every abandoned moonbase in the solar system. A bloody interdimensional war will break out, with heavily-armed and foul-mouthed space marines fighting the last pitched battle for humankind. Before long, this will devolve into chaos — soldiers jumping around like apes on speed, sniping one another furiously and cackling into wireless headsets.
The severity of this outcome really cannot be overstated. Forget black holes; when that collider turns on, anyone without extensive multiplayer training is in dire straits.
Of course, not everyone agrees that the LHC will destroy the world. Some scientists will tell you that there is no danger in particle collision experiments. They will point out that collisions of similar intensity occur in cosmic rays as a matter of course, and that the amount of energy released by the impact of two protons at full speed is roughly equivalent to that of a fly striking a screen door on a still summer night. They will reassure you that any black holes thusly formed are impossibly tiny, and will quickly decay in a burst of Hawking radiation. They will say these things, and you might be tempted to believe them.
You should not. As a scientist myself, I agree that these explanations are enticing. But there is a time to embrace reason, and there is a time to whip the hooded hordes into frenzied, unchecked terror. And this, my friends, is the second kind of time.
So call me a complainer, an irrational cynic, a misanthropic doomster; but come spring, when you’re fleeing a dimension-hopping demon with a Gatling gun, just remember — you heard it here first.
Michael Seringhaus is a sixth- year graduate student in molecular biophysics and biochemistry.