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by Mike Zazaian September 12, 2006 - 9:17pm, 404 Comments

CERN's Large Hadron Collider

As the Cernier company prepares to test the world’s largest supercollider physicists express concern that too much is being left to chance.

The Cernier Company or CERN, the world’s largest physics research firm, is currently in the process of building what would be the world’s largest working supercollider. Known as “Large Hadron Collider,” or LHC, the device is 27 kilometers (16.7 miles) long and resides in a tunnel approximately 100 meters beneath the Franco-Swiss border, just outside of Geneva.

By accelerating protons toward each other at 99.999999% the speed of light the LHC can recreate conditions similar to those that resulted from the Big Bang, ultimately alighting a great deal about the particles and forces that comprise our Universe. A press release from CERN better illuminates their intent for the project:

…Our current understanding of the Universe is incomplete. We have seen that the theory we use, the Standard Model, leaves many unsolved questions. Among them, the reason why elementary particles have mass, and why are their masses different is the most perplexing one. It is remarkable that such a familiar concept is so poorly understood.

LHC functions by accelerating two counter-rotating beams of protons toward each other at high speeds. By cooling magnets to near absolute zero (-273 degrees celcius) with an enormous cryogenics system, the LHC can move particles toward each other at speeds only one millionth of a percent away from the speed of light.

And while Physicists have the logistics of the LHC well in hand ideas about its outcome are strictly theoretical. According to one scenario tiny black holes could be produced which hopefully would decay into what is known as Hawking radiation (the tinier the black hole, the faster it evaporates). If these black holes fail to decay, however, the consequences could be disasterous. CERN software developer Ran Livneh has expressed some concerns about the project:

This physical realm is unknown, and dangerous phenomena might arise…Any physicist will tell you that there is no way to prove that generated black holes will decay. The consequences of being mistaken are unfathomable. This subject deserves serious unbiased discussion.

Despite these theoretical discrepencies the LHC project will continue as scheduled toward its launch in 2007. Mankind has never progressed itself due to fear of the unknown. Although the results of the Large Hadron Collider could potentially be disasterous, the intellectual consequences of not conducting the experiment could be equally so.