Is the end of the world nigh? Doom-mongers fear the consequences of scientists replicating the Big Bang.
On Wednesday (Sep 10, 2008; 7.30 AM GMT), Dr Lyn Evans - the man behind the world’s biggest scientific experiment - will fire up the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile-long doughnut-shaped tunnel that will smash sub-atomic particles together at nearly the speed of light.
Built by the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the collider lies beneath the French-Swiss border, near the institution’s headquarters in Geneva, at depths ranging from 170ft to 600ft.
The aim of the £4.4billion experiment is to recreate the conditions that existed just an instant after the Big Bang – the birth of the universe – and provide vital clues to the building blocks of life.
It will track the spray of particles thrown out by collisions in a search for the elusive Higgs Boson, named after the British physicist Peter Higgs (pix), a theoretical entity that supposedly lends weight, or mass, to the elementary particles. So important is this mysterious substance that it has been called the ‘God Particle’.
Scientists also hope to shed some light on the invisible material that exists between particles – dubbed ‘dark matter’ as no one knows what it really is – which makes up most of the universe.
But a handful of scientists believe that the experiment could create a shower of unstable black holes that could ‘eat’ the planet from within, and they are launching last-ditch efforts to halt it in the courts.
One of them, Professor Otto Rossler, a retired German chemist, said he feared the experiment may create a devastating quasar – a mass of energy fuelled by black holes – inside the Earth.
‘Nothing will happen for at least four years,’ he said. ‘Then someone will spot a light ray coming out of the Indian Ocean during the night and no one will be able to explain it.
‘A few weeks later, we will see a similar beam of particles coming out of the soil on the other side of the planet. Then we will know there is a little quasar inside the planet.’
Prof Rossler said that as the spinning-top-like quasar devoured the world from within, the two jets emanating from it would grow and catastrophes such as earthquakes and tsunamis would occur at the points they emerged from the Earth.
‘The weather will change completely, wiping out life, and very soon the whole planet will be eaten in a magnificent scenario – if you could watch it from the moon. A Biblical Armageddon. Even cloud and fire will form, as it says in the Bible.’
He said that attempts were still being made in the European Court of Human Rights to halt the experiment on the grounds that it violated the right to life. The court has, however, already rejected calls for a temporary delay in the project, and it is unlikely to come to a speedy decision about whether the CERN experiment should be halted for good.
Meanwhile Dr Walter Wagner, an American scientist who has been warning about the dangers of particle accelerators for 20 years, is awaiting a ruling on a lawsuit he filed a fortnight ago in his home state of Hawaii.
He fears the experiments might unwittingly create something he calls a ‘strangelet’ that could result in a fusion reaction that might ultimately turn the Earth into a supernova, or an exploding star.
But Dr Evans, the leader of the project, who has devoted 14 years of his life to building the vast particle accelerator, is dismissive of the doom-mongers.
In fact, he is so relaxed about the project; he even wears shorts to work.
He said that Prof Rossler was a ‘crazy’ retired professor who had invented his own theory of relativity.
‘We have shown him where his elementary errors are, but of course people like that just will not listen,’ said Dr Evans.
Meanwhile, Dr Wagner’s fears were ‘totally and completely’ unfounded. ‘There are thousands of scientists around the world who have been preparing this machine and they know what they are talking about, unlike these guys,’ he added.
Are we all going to die next Wednesday?
Dr Evans says his real nightmare is not that he will destroy the world but that, with the cameras rolling, the machine will break down. ‘This is not the first accelerator I have commissioned, but the first under the glare of the whole world,’ he said.
‘My main worry is that we’ve got a huge amount of equipment and it is new. If something trips off, we are down for hours and we have all these Press people sitting around.
‘We are not used to that. We are used to setting things up quietly and announcing it afterwards.’
mailonsunday’s full report: Meet ‘Evans the Atom’