The Universe in a Grain of Sand

The public attention that the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland has received is rare for scientific news, perhaps owing to concerns that something celestially dangerous is being cooked up in our backyard. But the collider's real importance consists in its potential to alter radically the way think – and not just about science.

There was a flurry of press coverage when the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland was turned on, and again when it was shut down by a technical problem shortly afterwards. The collider’s operation was a much-anticipated event in science, one that could confirm or undermine one of the most successful theories about how the universe is structured. The public attention that it has received is rare for scientific news, perhaps owing to concerns that something celestially dangerous is being cooked up in our backyard.

The lead-up coverage was accompanied by hype about the potential risks, so when the test did not seem to go as planned, it was natural to wonder if the fabric of space-time had been bruised. Some of the initial rumors about what could happen were extreme. One speculated that these new high energies, when combined with the specific way the particles would be broken, would annihilate us. In another scenario, the lab might create uncontrollable tiny black holes. In yet another, the creation of a “stranglet” would spawn new and terrible levels of nuclear power.

There are possible risks when messing around with fundamental matter, but in this case, the shutdown was due to a mundane gas leak. What makes this test interesting for scientists, rather than newsmakers, is unchanged, and will still be exciting when CERN starts up the collider again.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.

required

By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in

http://prosyn.org/eB7LQpQ;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.