2004-08-29 16:47:22

This page containing 5 one-page explanations of the Higgs boson reminds me of a quote from one of my favorite television shows, LEXX:

790: "This is a classic type 13 planet, which typically destroys itself at this stage of its development."

Xev: "How?"

790: "Sometimes through war, often through environmental catastrophe. But more commonly, a type 13 planet is inadvertently collapsed into a pea-sized object by scientists attempting to determine the mass of the Higgs boson particle."

I should know better, but I confess that high-energy particle physics really does make me nervous sometimes. Not just me, either: several years ago "concerned citizens" convinced the government to convince the good people at Brookhaven National Labs to investigate the possibility that the Brookhaven Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider might cause problems such as: The result, if you're curious, is this paper: Review of Speculative "Disaster Scenarios" at RHIC [PDF]. Unsurprisingly, their conclusion is that we're as safe as a babe in mother's arms. I've read the paper and some of their empirical arguments are quite convincing. But also note that the report says "[the first and second items on the list above] ought to be considered, each time a new facility opens up a new high energy frontier". I think it's safe to say that the vast majority of particle physicists are opposed to the inadvertant creation of black holes and more stable universes, if only because it would interfere with their research grant money. But it's interesting to note that before a new accelerator is built, somebody sits down and quietly attempts to figure out the chances that it'll destroy the universe. Just to be "safe".