Large Hadron Collider goes Back to the Future
Monday, October 19, 2009 | 03:12 PM ET
By Peter Evans, CBCNews.ca
It hasn't been a smooth ride for the Large Hadron Collider.
First, a worker was killed when a 1,200-kilogram cabinet slipped and fell on him. Next, faulty magnets caused a helium leak. And earlier this month, a worker at the site was arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist.
A 27-kilometre long circular tunnel buried under the French and Swiss border, the LHC might be the world's most elaborate science experiment.
Essentially a gigantic particle accelerator, the collider is tasked with finding the Higgs boson – a mystery-shrouded theoretical particle that's believed to play a role in giving matter its mass.
Scientists believe the Higgs was present in the nanoseconds following the Big Bang. Among other tests, the LHC hopes to recreate those conditions to prove that the Higgs actually exist.
It was fired up for the first time in September 2008. When that happened, more than a few people were relieved to discover that the Earth was not immediately swallowed into a massive black hole, which was one of the more doomsday-like prophecies of what the collider might cause.
The project was halted shortly thereafter for a series of technical mishaps and it's been shuttered ever since. But as officials prepare to fire it up again, some intriguing new research suggests the project is doomed to fail no matter what preparations are made.
Two scientists have hypothesized in a series of papers that the LHC's stated aim of finding the Higgs boson might be so abhorrent to nature that mysterious forces are traveling back through time and sabotaging the experiment before it can succeed.
"The potential production of a large number of Higgs particles at a certain future time would cause a pre-arrangement such that Higgs particle production can be avoided," theoretical physicists Holger Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya rather clumsily wrote in a recent research paper.
Unlike the experiment itself, reaction to the paper has been predictable. Blogger mouths were agape. The New York Times chimed in.
Despite the attention, the two aren't proposing a possible solution to the problem. Indeed, if the powers that be are bound and determined to see the LHC fail, there isn't much humanity can do about it, they concede. Their proposal was merely to implement a sort of random-number generator via card drawing into the overall LHC experiment.
If an impossibly rare sequence of numbers came up, it could be construed as proof of high-level meddling, they posited. "When the Higgs particles are to be produced, we must carry out a retest to elucidate whether there could be an influence from the future," the physicists wrote.
A science experiment being sabotaged by its own future self?
That two respected scientists would put forward a theory reminiscent of Marty McFly's journey through time to ensure his parents fall in love speaks to the collider's intrigue in the scientific community and the world at large.
In his book Angels and Demons, novelist Dan Brown wrote of a secret society stealing anti-matter form CERN, the agency that operates the collider, and using it to make a bomb to destroy the Vatican.
Confusion was widespread enough that CERN went as far as publishing an FAQ on their website establishing that, no, in fact, they are not in the midst of developing a weapon thousands of times more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
A looming nuclear apocalypse notwithstanding, the LHC wouldn't be the first ambitious science project to have trouble getting off the ground. The Hubble Space Telescope suffered through a number of missteps before being successfully launched in 1990. And the highway of alternative energy is littered with the carcasses of hyped developments that never panned out.
Leaving aside any nuisances that might develop from ripping a hole in the space-time continuum, perhaps there's a good side to the sudden viability of time travel.
The creator making his or her presence felt could open up a whole new branch of scientific research, for example. String Theory and its effect on the Enchantment Under The Sea dance, maybe?
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