The fears about the LHC

It seems laughable now but we should recall that when the Large Hadron Collider was being constructed, there were fears that the high-energy collisions it would enable would destroy the world by creating black holes or some such thing. Even I got questions about this possibility from people who are not normally paranoid.

I reassured them that the collision energies produced in the LHC would be nowhere close to the energies that happen routinely in collisions in the atmosphere due to cosmic rays. What the LHC would do is enable us to study collisions in a controlled environment as opposed to depending on unknown and unpredictable extra-galactic sources.

In this 2009 episode of The Daily Show, Jon Oliver interviews Walter Wagner who sued to try and stop the LHC. He failed. Wagner also tried and failed to stop another earlier accelerator named RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) that was built in New York state in 2000 to try and create plasmas that would resemble conditions in the early stages of the Big Bang. There were fears then that these collisions would create exotic particles known a ‘strangelets’ that might swallow the Earth.

(This clip was aired on April 30, 2009. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post.)


  1. jaytheostrich says

    Frankie Boyle (Scottish stand-up) did a great bit on an episode of Mock the Week about that, you can find it on YouTube if you want a laugh and are all right with ‘adult’ language (Frankie is that type of comedian).

  2. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Agreed, jaytheostrich. I can’t quite decide what disturbed him the most, though; the ‘black hole machine’, as he insisted it was called, or the Chinese taking over the world in the very near future.

  3. dmcclean says

    As a layman, these concerns seem similar in kind to some expressed during the Manhattan project that a hydrogen bomb might start a chain reaction of nitrogen-to-nitrogen fusion in the atmosphere. Similar in that they seem plausible enough that someone needs to run the numbers to see if it is a real concern, and then you hope that that someone was right.

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