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A need for Con-CERN?

Along with millions of others, I have been curious about the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) for quite some time now and have been looking forward to the day that it was meant to be fired up. In part, for no other reason than to see for myself if the world would slowly turn to goo, or if a giant black hole would suddenly begin eating our planet. As of today, the LHC has been literally switched on, but it won’t be expected to actually collide protons in any serious way for at least another month or two. Key players in this historic creation are the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) and the US Department of Defense. It is funded by and built in collaboration with over eight thousand physicists from over eighty-five countries as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories.

I think the first uber particle accelerator planned was called the Superconducting Super Collider, built in Texas during the Reagan Administration. (It never ceases to amaze me how ‘creative’ the names are for these ultra-high-tech, futuristic devices.) The project was officially cancelled in 1993 when it had become clear that the budget of nearly 4.5 billion dollars would need to be, at least, tripled. Closing the project caused serious financial reverberations in the Dallas, Texas communities.

Is this the real reason the collider was tossed in the can, or were there just as many doomsday scares then as there are now? Any lawsuits back then? Does anyone recall?

Interestingly, the SSC was designed to reach a higher energy than the LHC (40 TeV against 14 TeV in the center of mass). The LHC became a far less expensive project due primarily to its smaller size, but also because the infrastructure already existed, having been built to host another accelerator, the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP), which was hosted in the 27 km long underground cavern beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland.

Now the world is abuzz with doomsday messages about the high potential for world catastrophe. The Washington Post today posted this rather humorous article; however, it only serves to underscore how fear of the unknown can result in disastrous consequences. There has already been one senseless, needless, fear-induced death today over the doomsday hype. A shame.

Particle Accelerator Speeds into an Age of ‘New Physics’
By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 2008; 12:14 PM

MEYRIN, Switzerland — It is the biggest machine ever built. Everyone says it looks like a movie set for a corny James Bond villain. They are correct. The machine is attended by brainiacs wearing hard hats and running around on catwalks. They are looking for the answer to the question: Where does everything in the universe come from? Price tag: $8 billion plus.

The world’s largest particle accelerator is buried deep in the earth beneath herds of placid dairy cows grazing on the Swiss-French border. The thing has been under construction for years, like the pyramids. Its centerpiece is a circular 17-mile tunnel that contains a pipe swaddled in supermagnets refrigerated to crazy-low temperatures, colder than deep space.

The idea is to set two beams of protons traveling in opposite directions around the tunnel, redlining at the speed of light, generating wicked energy that will mimic the cataclysmic conditions at the beginning of time, then smashing into each other in a furious re-creation of the Big Bang — this time recorded by giant digital cameras.

On Wednesday, they fired this sucker up.

It will be months before the proton beams reach full power and produce the kinds of exotic collisions that may herald an age of “new physics.” But if the machine works — this most ambitious, expensive, technologically advanced civilian scientific experiment in history — it would be a happening for humanity.

“I think we may have to rewrite our textbooks,” said Fabiola Gianotti, a project leader for ATLAS, one of the four huge detectors that will record and analyze the collisions. “There must be something more than we have seen. There is something missing from the puzzle.”

The Large Hadron Collider, as it is called by the 8,000 scientists, engineers and technicians from 85 countries who dote on it, will probe the most fundamental mysteries. From the fireballs, there might spring forth black holes and the elusive thing that gives matter its mass. Or not! There might be particles called “strangelets” and evidence of “dark matter” and signs of “supersymmetry” and maybe a little antimatter.

Oh, and they might find some extra dimensions. But this is the delicious part. They. Don’t. Exactly. Know.

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I figured there must be some voice of reason out there to make one feel a little safer. Surely 8,000+ scientists (all of whom have families and good reasons to be alive) couldn’t be involved in some super-malicious plot to willy-nilly destroy the Earth. I realise that fear is oftentimes the result of a lack of understanding and not knowing what lies ahead. Fear immobilises us and prevents us from acting, even when that act could be in our best interests. There is a huge difference between gut-wrenching fear (i.e. the man holding a gun to your head may pull the trigger) and fear born in our own minds, the latter being fear that is brought about by what-ifs and mistrust.

Now, the following reports may not be the easiest to understand in the eyes of the average Joe, but I’m pretty sure most educated scientists wouldn’t need to read them at all to know that we probably have very little to fear in regard to the potential dangers of the LHC – which is, in a nutshell, what the report and press release are trying to assure us of.

Check it out here: The report of the LHC Safety Assessment Group is available at http://cern.ch/lsag/LSAG-Report.pdf

http://press.web.cern.ch/press/PressReleases/Releases2008/PRO5.08E.html

With that being said, what message does this send to us with regard to the science community’s warnings about Global Warming?

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