Saturday, 2:15 PM
MIT physicist gets death threats over collider
(AFP File Photo)
Doomsday machine? An engineer pointed at the Large Hadron Collider in March 2007.
By Carolyn Y. Johnson, Globe Staff
Frank Wilczek, an MIT physicist and Nobel laureate, has received death threats from what he called "one disturbed individual," as the world's largest physics experiment is poised to come online tomorrow in Europe.
Wilczek, a theoretical physicist, has not been directly involved in the Large Hadron Collider, but said that the threats came in the form of calls and e-mails. Reached in Cambridge, Wilczek said both MIT and Cambridge police were notified about the threats, but he dismissed them. He said they shouldn't distract from the $9 billion experiment itself, which physicists hope will answer fundamental questions about the structure of matter by recreating the conditions of the early universe.
Wilczek said doomsday fears about the collider are unfounded. "Although scientists havenít produced these conditions before in controlled ways that they could study, nature has been doing this for a long time, in cosmic rays," he said.
Critics have alleged that the physics experiment could end the world through various disaster scenarios, and lawsuits have been filed in US and European courts to try and stop the project from moving forward.
Wilczek, a theoretical physicist, joined Nobel laureate and Boston University physicist Sheldon Glashow and Harvard University physicist Richard Wilson in siding with the government in a court case in Hawaii, in which plaintiffs sued to stop the experiment.
In their brief, the physicists noted that similar "claims of potentially cataclysmic disasters" were made when another collider was being built at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island -- including by one of the plaintiffs in the current case against the LHC. That project, called the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, has now been operating for nearly a decade, without obliterating earth.
A study this year by the LHC Assessment Group states, "We conclude by reiterating the conclusion of the LHC Safety Group in 2003: there is no basis for any conceivable threat from the LHC. Indeed, theoretical and experimental developments since 2003 have reinforced this conclusion."
The executive board of the division of particles and fields of the American Physical Society said in a statement that it agreed with the report, and noted that the report had been peer reviewed by an international panel of scientists..
"It would take about 100,000 LHC experiments to match the number of cosmic ray events that have already occurred," the statement said. "We can rest assured that our planet will not be affected by the four experiments about to be conducted in Geneva."
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