I’ve been reading more stories, lately, about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, which is the European Organization for Nuclear Research (its acronym refers to the French Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire, which was its original provisional body before it became an organization in 1954). CERN is on the Franco-Swiss border in Geneva, and its reason for being is fundamental physics.
I’ve always been fascinated by physics, though in specific ways; I always sucked at math, and indeed nearly flunked physics in college, but I’ve always loved the study of black holes and relativity (at least, so nearly as I can understand them). When I was in high school, I read Leon Lederman’s The God Particle; I got through the first few chapters but then gave up when it started with its equations (which has always been where my brain shuts off. Numbers, fine, but I can’t handle letters if they’re not in writing and books).
The LHC is the latest in a series of 8 particle accelerators, which use electric fields to propel charged particles at high speeds. Basically, I think of it like if two bullets struck each other to explode and you studied the fragments, which is probably overly simplistic, but I’m no physicist. But the general idea, I think, is that, like, two protons or quarks or whathaveyou will collide to explode, thereby freeing the particles that make them up, and scientists are most excited about one theoretical particle in particular: the Higgs boson. It is, so far, theoretical, but it’s the only particle predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics that hasn’t been observed; scientists hypothesize that it may be the particle behind the property of mass.
They are excited because, as it is the largest, most advanced, and most powerful accelerator ever, they believe that the LHC experiments might produce one.
Some, however, have speculated it’s not all the LHC might produce.
As with everything that very few people fully understand, one of the things I’ve been reading about the LHC is the catastrophic results that may or may not occur. Everything from some wild speculation that it might cause a microscopic blackhole that could, in turn, suck the planet through it to the wilder speculation that one of its explosions might release enough energy to cause a small tear in the fabric of spacetime that would actually be a doorway into Hell and allow Satan and his legions of demons through to initiate the endtimes. In his novel FlashForward, Robert Sawyer wrote a story in which, for 8 minutes, all of human consciousness flashed forward a certain amount of years (I’d link to it, but I ultimately thought it was pretty bad). Richard Cox explored the idea of the Higgs in his novel The God Particle, which is more of a technothriller (and, to my tastes, better [though not quite as good as Cox’s other book, Rift]).
But the coolest, most awesome speculation I’ve heard?
That the LHC won’t actually work.
Because apparently, if it does work when they fire it up, the effects it produces might cause backward ripples in time, which could prevent its previous self from properly functioning.
I’ll give you a second to read that sentence again.
Z. O. M. G.
It’s one of the most exciting ideas I’ve ever heard in my life.
Of course, admittedly, the chances of its occurring are probably slim to none, and Slim just left. But even still, just the fact that a couple of major scientists (one from the University of Copenhagen, the other from Kyoto University, so it ain’t like they’re academic slouches, or anything) think it’s possible just blows my frickin’ mind.
I’ll admit I’m also excited for a rather selfish reason. You see, both the Higgs boson and CERN figure into The Prodigal Hour as major plot points. And yes, I tell you that to tease.
You can read more about CERN and the LHC here.