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Sunday, August 31st, 2008

LARGE HADRON COLLIDER: Critics say it could create black holes


A last-minute legal challenge has been launched against the world’s biggest and most expensive scientific experiment, amid claims that the research could bring about the end of the world.

Critics of the Large Hadron Collider — a machine due to be switched on in 10 days’ time — have lodged a lawsuit at the European Court for Human Rights against the 20 countries funding the project.

The device is designed to replicate the conditions that existed a fraction of a second after the Big Bang, and its creators hope it will unlock the secrets of how the universe began. However, opponents fear the machine, which will smash subatomic particles together at high speed and generate temperatures of more than a trillion degrees centigrade, might create a miniature black hole that could tear the earth apart.

The legal battle comes as the European Nuclear Research Centre (CERN), in Geneva, prepares to send the first beam of particles around the machine at the official opening, on Sept. 10, although it will be weeks before the first collision.

Opponents of the project had hoped to obtain an injunction from the court that would block the collider from being turned on at all, but the court rejected the application on Friday morning. However, the court will rule on allegations that the experiment violates the right to life under the European Convention of Human Rights.

Prof. Otto Rossler, a German chemist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen, who is one of the most vocal opponents of the project and who was one of the scientists who submitted the complaint to the court, said: “CERN itself has admitted that mini-black holes could be created when the particles collide, but it doesn’t consider this a risk.

“My own calculations have shown that it is quite plausible that these little black holes survive and will grow exponentially and eat the planet from the inside.”

Prof. Rossler claims that, in the worst-case scenario, the earth could be sucked insideout within four years of a black hole forming. But a safety report published earlier this year by experts at CERN and reviewed by a group of external scientists said there was little theoretical chance of the collider producing black holes that would be capable of posing a danger to the earth, as cosmic rays that hit the planet routinely produce higher energy collisions than will be possible in the collider.

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