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    Could Experimental Physics Accidently End the World?

    A section of the Large Hadron Collider showing the pipe containing the two "tracks" where the particles build up speed and energy.

    So is the story even vaguely possible? Could scientists accidently create a black hole in the laboratory that would consume our planet?

    When people think of black holes they usually think of an object in space many times the mass of the sun whose gravity is so powerful that even a beam of light cannot escape its grasp. These monsters are the remnants of supernova explosions. Anything that gets close to them, a space ship, a planet, or even a star, gets sucked in by the black hole's gravity never to be seen again. Scientists think there is a huge one a million times the mass of the sun located right in the heart of our galaxy.

    The minimum size of these black holes in space are at least three times the mass of the sun, so it would seem to require a lot of matter to create a black hole. Physics theory suggests, however, that it might be possible to create a microscopic black hole by slamming two sub-atomic particles together at extremely high velocities.

    Making Black Holes

    And that's what has some people worried. Particle colliders, like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Europe and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in Brookhaven, New York, are designed to do precisely that: slam sub-atomic particles together at tremendous speeds and energies. These particle accelerators usually include a ring-like "track" where the particles are accelerated to speeds near that of the speed of light. In the case of the LHC, the main ring is 17 miles in diameter and sends particles down two parallel tracks in opposite directions. When they have obtained enough energy, the particles are switched onto different tracks that take them on a collision course so they strike head on. The impact tears the particles apart into their component pieces and some of the energy involved converts into a hot, soup-like plasma of quarks and gluons. When it condenses it becomes matter again with new types of particles being formed as per Einstein's famous formula E=mc2. This allows scientists to study the universe at it smallest and most basic pieces.

    Sub-atomic particles are subject to a number of forces. Gravity is one we are very familiar with. Though it is weak when compared to other forces, it is tenacious and operates over great distances. Gravity causes all pieces of matter to be "pulled" toward each other. The more massive the object is and the closer the object is the more pull it has. That's why something large like the earth attracts you. It is also why (if you were standing on the moon, which is only 6th the mass of earth) you would have only one 6th your weight.

    Even small particles have gravity, but other forces resist them being pulled very close together. If, however, you slam them together with enough speed so you can get the particles close enough, gravity will overcome the resistance and the two particles will form a tiny, black hole. For many years it was thought that the energy necessary to do this was many, many times more than a particle accelerator could ever provide.

    Scientists working on string theory (a theory about how the universe is put together), however, have suggested our universe has more than just the three familiar dimensions. Extra, small dimensions might be curled up in the big three that we can't see. If this is the case, as two objects get very close to one another, their attraction due to gravity might skyrocket. With this extra gravity helping, the LHC just might have the necessary power to make microscopic black holes.

    Black holes are believed to be the result of a large supernova explosion, but could a tiny one be made in a laboratory?

    So if these theorists are right, can the LHC create a black hole that will eventually eat the world? One of the strongest arguments against this happening is something known as . A few years ago the famous physicist Stephen Hawking came to the conclusion that a black hole should emit radiation. His arguments have become widely accepted and this means that any black hole under a certain size should simply "evaporate." Microscopic black holes made by a particle accelerator would probably be around for only a fraction of a second before they would disappear.

    But what if Hawking is wrong and they don't evaporate? Or don't evaporate as quickly as we think?

    Most of the black holes created by a particle accelerator would be moving so fast that they would simply leave the planet and head out into space. Perhaps only one in a million would be moving slow enough that it would get trapped by Earth's gravity.

    What about one of those then? A tiny, black hole would be pulled to the center of our planet. However, the gravity it would have is so low it would rarely interact with other matter. Physicist Greg Landsberg at Brown University believes it would only absorb about one proton (the positive particles at the center of atoms) every 100 hours. This growth rate is so small that the tiny, black hole would only have absorbed a few milligrams of Earth's matter by the time the end of the universe arrived.

    Source : www.unmuseum.org

    Large Hadron Collider: What happened to the scientist who stuck his head inside a particle accelerator — Quartz

    Bugorski was checking malfunctioning equipment on the U-70 synchrotron—the largest particle accelerator in the Soviet Union—when a safety mechanism failed.

    PROTON CRUSH <3

    This is what happened to the scientist who stuck his head inside a particle accelerator

    REUTERS/ISEEI KATO

    Amazing things are happening in particle science.

    By Joel Frohlich

    PhD student, University of California—Los Angeles

    Published April 21, 2017Last updated September 4, 2018This article is more than 2 years old.

    What would happen if you stuck your body inside a particle accelerator? The scenario seems like the start of a bad Marvel comic, but it happens to shed light on our intuitions about radiation, the vulnerability of the human body, and the very nature of matter. Particle accelerators allow physicists to study subatomic particles by speeding them up in powerful magnetic fields and then tracing the interactions that result from collisions. By delving into the mysteries of the universe, colliders have entered the zeitgeist and tapped the wonders and fears of our age.

    As far back as 2008, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), operated by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), was charged with creating microscopic black holes that would allow physicists to detect extra dimensions. To many, this sounds like the plot of a disastrous science-fiction movie. It came as no surprise when two people filed a lawsuit to stop the LHC from operating, lest it produce a black hole powerful enough to destroy the world. But physicists argued that the idea was absurd and the lawsuit was rejected.

    Then, in 2012, the LHC detected the long-sought Higgs boson, a particle needed to explain how particles acquire mass. With that major accomplishment, the LHC entered popular culture; it was featured on the album cover of Super Collider (2013) by the heavy metal band Megadeth, and was a plot point in the US television series The Flash (2014-).

    Yet, despite its accomplishments and glamour, the world of particle physics is so abstract that few understand its implications, meaning or use. Unlike a NASA probe sent to Mars, CERN’s research doesn’t produce stunning, tangible images. Instead, the study of particle physics is best described by chalkboard equations and squiggly lines called Feynman diagrams. Aage Bohr, the Nobel laureate whose father Niels invented the Bohr model of the atom, and his colleague Ole Ulfbeck have even gone as far as to deny the physical existence of subatomic particles as anything more than mathematical models.

    Which returns us to our original question: What happens when a beam of subatomic particles traveling at nearly the speed of light meets the flesh of the human body? Perhaps because the realms of particle physics and biology are conceptually so far removed, it’s not only laypeople who lack the intuition to answer this question, but also some professional physicists. In a 2010 YouTube interview with members of the physics and astronomy faculty at the University of Nottingham, several academic experts admitted that they had little idea what would happen if one were to stick a hand inside the proton beam at the LHC. Professor Michael Merrifield put it succinctly: “That’s a good question. I don’t know is the answer. Probably be very bad for you.” Professor Laurence Eaves was also cautious about drawing conclusions. “[B]y the scales of energy we notice, it wouldn’t be that noticeable,” he said, likely with a bit of British understatement. “Would I put my hand in the beam? I’m not sure about that.”

    Such thought experiments can be useful tools for exploring situations that can’t be studied in the laboratory. Occasionally, however, unfortunate accidents yield case studies: opportunities for researchers to study scenarios that can’t be experimentally induced for ethical reasons. Case studies have a sample size of one and no control group. But, as the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran has pointed out in Phantoms in the Brain (1998), it takes only one talking pig to prove that pigs can talk. On Sept. 13, 1848, for example, an iron rod pierced through the head of the US railway worker Phineas Gage and profoundly changed his personality, offering early evidence of a biological basis for personality.

    And on July 13, 1978, a Soviet scientist named Anatoli Bugorski stuck his head in a particle accelerator. On that fateful day, Bugorski was checking malfunctioning equipment on the U-70 synchrotron—the largest particle accelerator in the Soviet Union—when a safety mechanism failed and a beam of protons traveling at nearly the speed of light passed straight through his head, Phineas Gage-style. It’s possible that, at that point in history, no other human being had ever experienced a focused beam of radiation at such high energy. Although proton therapy—a cancer treatment that uses proton beams to destroy tumors—was pioneered before Bugorski’s accident, the energy of these beams is generally not above 250 million electron volts (a unit of energy used for small particles). Bugorski might have experienced the full wrath of a beam with more than 300 times this much energy, 76 billion electron volts.

    Proton radiation is a rare beast indeed. Protons from the solar wind and cosmic rays are stopped by Earth’s atmosphere, and proton radiation is so rare in radioactive decay that it was not observed until 1970. More familiar threats, such as ultraviolet photons and alpha particles, do not penetrate the body past skin unless a radioactive source is ingested. Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, for instance, was killed by alpha particles that do not so much as penetrate paper when he unknowingly ingested radioactive polonium-210 delivered by an assassin. But when Apollo astronauts protected by spacesuits were exposed to cosmic rays containing protons and even more exotic forms of radiation, they reported flashes of visual light, a harbinger of what would welcome Bugorski on the fateful day of his accident. According to an interview in Wired magazine in 1997, Bugorski immediately saw an intense flash of light but felt no pain. The young scientist was taken to a clinic in Moscow with half his face swollen, and doctors expected the worst.

    Source : qz.com

    What happens if you get hit by the main beam of a particle accelerator like the LHC?

    I don't know about you, but ever since I started covering the Large Hadron Collider and other large-scale particle accelerators ...

    What happens if you get hit by the main beam of a particle accelerator like the LHC?

    By Sebastian Anthony on July 28, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Comments Facebook Twitter Linkedin Pinterest Google Plus Reddit Hacker News Flipboard Email Copy 28shares

    This site may earn affiliate commissions from the links on this page. Terms of use.

    I don’t know about you, but ever since I started covering the Large Hadron Collider and other large-scale particle accelerators for ExtremeTech, I’ve always morbidly wondered: What would happen if a scientist was accidentally hit by the main particle beam? Would the scientist explode in the style of beam weapons in Star Trek? Would the beam bore a hole clean through the scientist’s chest? Or maybe the beam would do nothing at all and pass through the scientist harmlessly? Well, fortunately (unfortunately?) we don’t have to guess, as this exact scenario actually happened to Anatoli Bugorski, a Russian scientist, way back in 1978.

    Back in the 1970s, Anatoli Bugorski was a researcher at the Soviet Union’s Institute for High Energy Physics. The Institute housed the U-70, a synchrotron that when it was built was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world (it’s still the most powerful accelerator in Russia today). The U-70 smashes two beams of protons together at a combined energy of around 76 GeV, at a speed that gets very close to the speed of light.

    On July 13, 1978, Bugorski was checking a malfunction on the U-70… and then somehow his head ended up in the path of the main proton beam. The beam entered his skull on the back left, and came out near the left side of his nose. Sources seem to disagree on how much ionizing radiation Bugorski actually took to the head, but some say it was as high as 2,000-3,000 grays (200,000-300,000 rads). In any case, the beam would’ve been more than strong enough to burn a hole through the bone, skin, and brain tissue.

    At the time, Bugorski reported seeing a flash that was “brighter than a thousand suns,” but otherwise didn’t feel any pain. Over the next few days, the left side of his head swelled up “beyond recognition,” and then his skin started peeling off. Bugorski was moved to Moscow, where doctors avidly observed his expected demise — but, curiously enough, he survived. The left side of his face is paralyzed (due to nerve damage), his left ear is shot (all he can hear is an “unpleasant internal noise”), and he occasionally suffers from seizures, but otherwise Bugorski was relatively unscathed by the accident. He went on to complete his PhD — and he’s still alive today.

    Inside the Russian U-70 synchrotron building, in 2006 [Image credit: Mikhail Orlov]

    U-70 synchrotron, diagram

    Anatoli Bugorski today. You can see that the left side of his face droops a bit from the paralysis, and that it’s wrinkle-free because he hasn’t been able to move it for 26 years — similar to how Botox works, in actual fact.

    Slightly anticlimactic, eh? Well, if it’s any consolation, Bugorski probably got incredibly lucky that the proton beam (apparently) missed any vital parts of his brain. If it had hit the hippocampus, motor cortex, or the frontal lobe, this story wouldn’t have had a very happy ending. Likewise, it’s probably lucky that the beam hit his brain — which has the remarkable ability to rewire itself when such disasters occur — rather than some other vital organ. If the beam had sliced through his heart, or an artery in his neck, he probably would’ve died instantly.

    It’s also important to note that the beam from a particle accelerator is very narrow (the more focused the beam is, the higher the chance of collisions with protons in the other beam). As you can see in the black and white photo above, only a small patch of hair is missing from Bugorski’s scalp, suggesting the beam only fried quite a narrow channel of brain tissue. In much the same way that you could pass a very thin hypodermic needle through someone without causing too much damage, a particle beam probably isn’t going to carve a comically large cylinder through the victim’s chest.

    XKCD’s radiation dose chart. Click to zoom in. A sievert (Sv) is a measure of absorbed radiation; grays (Gy) are a physical quantity of radiation. Bugorski was hit by a large number of grays, but seemingly didn’t absorb much of it.

    A dosage of between 2,000 and 3,000 grays, if it was effectively absorbed by the human body (i.e. sieverts), would usually be more than enough to cause acute radiation sickness and death. In this case, though, the beam was so focused that it just passed straight through his body; if it had been more scattered, and fried a wider smattering of cells, Bugorski would certainly have died.

    Source : www.extremetech.com

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