Start of atom smasher sparks fears of world's end and Hawaii lawsuit

Tom Browder
Tom Browder

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

MANOA (KHNL) - Scientists are celebrating after successfully firing up the world's largest physics experiment for the very first time. But fears that the project will destroy the earth still linger, including here in Hawaii where a lawsuit is in the works.

Curiosity over how the universe was created didn't kill the world Wednesday morning, as scientists in switzerland officially turned on the Large Hadron Collider, (LHC).

"All around the world, physicists are extremely excited," said University of Hawaii Physics Professor Tom Browder.

Critics, including Walter Wagner, a physicist on the Big Island who has filed a lawsuit, fear the atom smasher which simulates the Big Bang, will backfire, potentially creating not just mini black holes, but also what's called a strange atom, or strangelet, which could cause the earth to explode.

"If we can find strangelets in nature then we know it's safe to make them ourselves. But if they don't exist in nature, then we don't know what their properties are going to be and that's a major concern," said Wagner.

"Those fears are greatly exaggerated. The basic argument for why we shouldn't worry is that nature has been conducting this experiment over and over with cosmic rays, particles that come from outer space," said Tom Browder, a physics professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, "Those particles which come from outer space have energies higher than the energies at the LHC and so far, nothing terrible has happened."

Project leaders insist this multi-billion dollar project is safe. As proof, in the command center, there's a bottle of champagne protected by safety glass that reads: In case of collisions, don't panic, open bottle and enjoy.

A trial date for the lawsuit filed in Hawaii is set for June of next year in federal court in Honolulu. The suit aims to force project leaders to conduct more safety studies on the Hadron Collider.