Big Bang experiment – the end of the world as we know it?
Scientists said they simply didn’t know what surprises might emerge when they started up the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest and most complex machine which until Wednesday lay benignly in its underground home on the outskirts of Geneva.
Perhaps crashing together millions of particles at close to the speed of light would replicate the conditions just after the Big Bang that created the universe.
Perhaps the high-energy collisions, which will generate temperatures more than 100,000 times than the heart
of the sun, would lay to rest an unproven theory of physics.
And maybe, just maybe, the largest scientific experiment in human history would produce some anti-matter, or miniature black holes that would quickly disappear
“The most exciting result would be something we don’t expect,” British physicist Stephen Hawking said on the eve of the tightly sealed machine’s start-up, echoing his scientific peers who bubbled over with enthusiasm about the prospect of finally cracking more of the universe’s mysteries once data starts spewing from the physics playground at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research.
For non-scientists, the scale and ambition of the 10-billion Swiss franc ($9 billion) project seem unnerving. The possibility of creating black holes simply sound scary.
Many people allow themselves to ask, are there limits to what science should seek to find out? Will this experiment result in the end of the world as we know it, or even bring about the end of the world?
Millions of people — myself included — were first introduced to CERN reading “Angels and Demons,” the prequel to “The Da Vinci Code,” in which bad guys try to steal anti-matter from the ultra-modern research centre to destroy the Vatican.
But the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider on Wednesday proceeded without the drama or adrenaline of a Dan Brown novel. Project director Lyn Evans even wore jeans and running shoes for the occasion.