Posts Tagged ‘physics’

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It’s the end of the World as we know it(?)

2008 September 4

BBC4 tonight hosts two programmes about the new device soon to be switched on at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research. The particle accelerator, called the Large Hadron Collider or LHC, will investigate the frontier of particle physics. The LHC will collide particles are the highest energies yet: More than 7 TeV. This will allow scientists to probe conditions just one billionth of a second after the Big Bang.

The first programme screens at 8pm BST (GMT +1 hour). The first programme, called Lost Horizons: The Big Bang, charts the story of the theory of the Big Bang. The second programme, called The Big Bang Machine, looks at the LHC itself. Readers who cannot view BBC4, or who miss the programmes, may be able to watch them on the BBC i-Player service.

The LHC has proven a controversial project. First thought of in the early 1980s, it was approved in December 1994. Work began on its construction in April 1998. First tests were run on 8-11 August this year.

The LHC will work, like other colliders, by crashing particles against one another. Beams travel in opposing direction, and the results analysed. The first beam circulation test is due on the 10th (next Wednesday). And the first high-energy collisions due on 21 October.

Among the array of strange new particles physicists hope to observe are Higgs bosons. These are predicted in the “standard model” but have not yet been observed. Other searches are planned, including for extra dimensions, magnetic monopoles, strangelets and micro black holes. It is these last three that have produced some controversy.

The LHC Controversy

Concerns have been raised as to the safety of the LHC. These surround suppositions that it may produce dangerous phenomena including:

  • strangelets,
  • micro black holes,
  • vacuum bubbles,
  • magnetic monopoles.

The LHC Safety Study Group of independent scientists concluded in a 2003 report that there is “no basis for any conceivable threat“. They reaffirmed this in a 2008 update to the report. Two subsequent papers also confirmed their findings. However, one researcher caused a stir on 10 August, concluding: “At the present stage of knowledge there is a definite risk from mBHs production at colliders”. On 21 March an injunction was filed to stop the LHC’s start-up. The US government called for its summary dismissal after the 2008 report. On 26 August a suit was filed against CERN in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This alleged that the LHC poses grave risks for the safety of the 27 members of the European Union and its citizens. The request was summarily rejected on the 29th. Though the case that it violates the right to life is still pending.

So what is the controversy? (Here comes the science bit, so pay attention!)

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