Update September 1, 2008: The LHC continues to ramp up to full production and the first attempt to circulate a beam of particles on September 10, 2008 will be broadcast live. See the full update here.
Update August 7, 2008: The LHC is scheduled to begin operation on September 10, 2008 and ramp up to full production in early 2009.
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, is nearing completion of the world’s largest and most complex scientific instrument. The final element in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was lowered in place on January 22, 2008. The LHC is a particle accelerator which will be used to accelerate tiny particles to extraordinarily high velocities to observe their resulting transformation in collisions with one another. The facility is scheduled to begin operation in May, 2008. There have been a number of news articles in the past few years that have speculated on remotely possible catastrophic risks posed by the LHC.
One speculation is that the LHC will create miniature black holes. If this happened, standard physics theory expects that these black holes would evaporate very quickly due to Hawking Radiation. However, some have suggested a remote possibility that these miniature black holes would not evaporate, but would grow to consume the Earth within a short period of time.
Another highly unlikely possibility is that strangelets could be produced. Strangelets are hypothetical objects that are comprised of roughly equal numbers of up, down, and strange quarks. The concern is that these objects would begin to change other matter that they come in contact with into strange matter, resulting in a runaway process that converts the entire Earth to strange matter.
The consensus within the physics community is that the operation of the LHC is safe. Studies have been conducted which have analyzed the risks and concluded that these catastrophic scenarios are not credible. The official position of CERN is that experiments in particle accelerators are completely safe and the risks have already been adequately analyzed and dismissed in previous studies. A small minority, however, disagree. James Blodgett noted that Dr. Walter L. Wagner is so concerned about the existential risks of experiments to be conducted at the LHC that he is proceeding with an effort to initiate legal action against CERN to force it to conduct additional safety studies.