Okay, like many of you, I struggle mightily when it comes to quantum physics, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t try to understand it on occasion. And one of the more recent interesting developments involves the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and the possibility that particles from the future are coming back to sabotage it before it gets started.
Yes, you read that right. Two prominent and distinguished physicists have recently proposed that Higgs boson particles — which are believed to have been created at the Big Bang, and what scientists hope to create with the LHC — are so “abhorrent to nature” (as the New York Times puts it) that they are somehow traveling back from the future to stop the LHC before it can create them.
The example of a time-traveler going back to kill his grandfather so as to prevent his own birth have been used to describe this, if that helps any. Like the plotlines of numerous sci-fi stories, movies and TV shows, the idea is that if you can change the past, you alter the future. See Marty McFly, Bill and Ted, Hiro Nakamura and of course, The Terminator. Apparently, like Skynet, Higgs boson particles have become self-aware.
If you’re not familiar with it, the LHC is the world’s largest particle collider, most of which is kept in a huge circular track with a 17-mile circumference that is underground near Geneva, Switzerland. Built by CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), it has taken 15 years to build at a cost of over $9 billion. On its first trials last year, two super conducting magnets failed, but those problems have supposedly been fixed, and the LHC is scheduled to start back up next month, with actual particle-colliding shortly after that.
The big deal of all this is that there have been scientists who fear that once running, the LHC will inadvertently create a black hole and destroy the Earth. Obviously, that could put a crimp in the research.
For the record, the majority of scientists currently don’t think that’s going to happen. Then again, there have been times when the majority of scientists didn’t think that meteorites fell from the sky, that the Earth was the center of the solar system and that germs didn’t exist. So there’s that.
No doubt, some of you are thinking, “Well, if something does go wrong, at least that’s on the other side of the Atlantic. There’s no giant particle accelerators around here!”
Yale University in New Haven is home to A.W. Wright Nuclear Structure Laboratory, which as luck would have it, is home to “the world’s most powerful stand-alone tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, capable of terminal voltages up to 20 MV.”
I don’t know what that last part means exactly, but I think that’s it would be fairly impressive to physics groupies or why include it, right?
The good news is that particles have been collided in the underground facility on Science Hill for the past 20 years or so without incident. So the LHC has that going for it, right?