Tuesday, September 09, 2008


The LHC begins crashing protons tomorrow. The following from Stephen Hawking captures it the most accurately:

"It is a tribute to how far we have come in theoretical physics that it now takes enormous machines and a great deal of money to perform an experiment whose results we cannot predict"

Since one of those unpredictable results is the end of the world, we might as well depart with song and dance:

But as imbibed with levity as this matter is, it reminds me a very similar matter brought up during the making of the atomic bomb; the suspicion by Edward Teller that the atmosphere might go up in flames. Teller first brought up the topic during a secret 1942 Berkeley summer study headed by Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer was concerned enough to go to Michigan and discuss it with Arthur Compton, one of the administrative heads of the project. The two actually decided to stop work on the project if this scenario posed a non-trivial risk. But the resourceful Hans Bethe by then had worked out the energy balances of the reactions involved and concluded that there was a "vanishingly small" possibility that this might happen...

Fast forward to 16 July 1945 at the site of the world's first atomic bomb detonation. Enrico Fermi was cheerfully taking bets on whether the bomb would ignite the entire planet or just the state of New Mexico...



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