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Rene Bellwied | USLHC | USA

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Spontaneous Combustion

The Big Day is nearing and the reports are piling up. I think it makes sense that many of the blogs as well as ‘news reports’ still link the event to the famous doomsday scenarios, because if not, would anybody listen or read ?
We are too engulfed in sensationalism, and the idea that we could destroy our own planet for the sake of scientific curiosity also carries a certain, very popular, stigma about scientists (just read Angels and Demons from Dan Brown).

Well, we didn’t destroy the earth with RHIC and we’re not going to with the LHC. The problem is that we have learned in the last century that nature can never say ‘never’, and that we will always have to work with probabilities. Now probabilities can be infinitely small, but how can you get that across ? Even my mom would say: ‘So you’re actually telling me it could happen ?’. Well, mom, no.

My friend and theory colleague, Sean Gavin, came in yesterday and said that some of his friends had calculated that it is actually more likely to spontaneously combust rather than being killed by a life-threatening black hole from the LHC. We are from Motown where we know a lot about combustion, so here is a comparison that I like, because, although the idea of spontaneous combustion of humans was prominently featured in the movie ‘Spinal Tap’, you might remember that it really only affects drummers of heavy metal rock bands !! So no ‘sudden bang’ for most of us.

But seriously, it is important to keep modern science in check and have independent groups look at ongoing research. Renowned scientists have done that in the case of RHIC and LHC and have published their results and findings, all of them coming to the same, less sensational, conclusion that there is no threat. It is then rather useless and even reckless, though, to generate fear and panic in people based on a scientific advance that likely will unravel mysteries about the universe that date back all the way to its creation. This is a day for excitement and celebration, because humanity has had the ingenuity and developed the technology to bring us closer to a very fundamental understanding of the universe we live in.

And quite frankly the most engaging and entertaining piece of news I have seen and heard in time for tomorrow’s start-up was the LHC rap on YouTube, which has now been viewed in excess of 1.3 Million Times ! Right on Kate !!

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5 Responses to “Spontaneous Combustion”

  1. Kevin says:

    Thanks for the great metaphor. The rational among us eagerly await the LHC being turned up to 11.

  2. [...] and the physics of combustion will tell you, before this happens, you would have probably already undergone spontaneous combustion [...]

  3. Trina says:

    Thanks for saying that. It’s hilarious how everyone’s scared over tonight’s events! I was at first, but thankfully I’m one to research what’s rumored to be true.

    Good luck tonight, and have fun!

  4. David Levine says:

    That was SUCH a cool video! I’ve watched it at least 5 times. And I really like this blog for keeping us updated on the activities at the LHC. Thanks again to all the US/LHC bloggers.

    Big Science set a bad precedent for itself when it unlocked nuclear energy in the form of a bomb. There are probably tens of thousands of people (I bet) who live in fear of spontaneous combustion. And hey, black holes are nothing if not a little scary. As you say, fear is what sells for the media. Even if the LHC DOES eat the universe, it will have been worth it.

    A big part of the beauty of this project lies in the monumental international collaborative effort for pure research. That our knowledge of the universe could substantially deepen is so tantalizing! For now, one can only hope that practical applications will also arise from these experiments. Its fun to imagine them.

    Please keep us posted.

  5. Tim J says:

    I have no intention of reading ANYTHING by Dan Brown! And to be honest, I’m more afraid of the destructive power of scientific ignorance combined with the herd instinct than I am of you bashing a few protons together. Even if you’re bashing them together exceptionally hard! Good luck to you all.

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