The world's most powerful particle collider is up and running, but the Large Hadron Collider will idle along at 1/14th of its peak, speed-of-light specs for the next several weeks.

In the meantime, a debate continues amping up. It's the buzz among skeptics in the blogosphere and has been the muse for at least one hip-hop poet. No matter whom you ask, the LHC is already a pretty inspiring piece of equipment.

Opponents have been moved to predictions of doomsday scenarios that regard it as a 17-mile-long catalyst to catastrophe. Being bunkered 300 feet below the border of France and Switzerland safely beyond the layman's view has only fueled the fears that it's a $10 billion money pit with enough power to literally create a black hole.

That's a sentiment that is not shared among physicists, including those in Utah, who regard the LHC as a doorway to a new era of basic science research they've been anticipating for more than 20 years.

Utah made a bid for the Superconducting Super-Collider in the mid-1980s but lost out to Texas, which also ultimately lost, too, when Congress pulled the plug due to a price tag that would rival expenditures for the NASA space program. The new accelerator/collider at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), was Europe's answer to the SSC.

Switching on the LHC is not a eureka moment for physicists, but having a machine capable of bringing the cosmos into the lab comes pretty close

What might be learned or how the future could be affected by what it reveals really isn't the point right now, and its potential danger is being overstated to say the least, said Utah State University physicist Stan Larson, noting that having the capacity to go the deepest humans have ever been able to probe into the nature and behavior of the basic matter of all life is a marvel in itself.

Many calculations have been done by hundreds of scientists around the world about the possible creation of black holes by the LHC, Larson said. "There have been no significant disagreements in the results of all those calculations — if a micro-black hole is created by the LHC, the expectation is it will escape from the gravitational field of the Earth and travel out into space, he added.

"Nature reaches the energies covered by the LHC every day, right here on Earth," he said. "The Earth is constantly being bombarded by cosmic rays — high energy particles from outer space that reach energies similar to and in excess of the energy of the LHC every second of every day. That being the case, if it is easy and plausible to make black holes, then Nature is already doing it every day right over our heads."

Colliders are "bread and butter" research projects designed to search for the Standard Higgs boson, the only particle in the Standard Model of Elementary Particles and Fields that has not yet been observed directly, said University of Utah physics professor Charlie Jui.

Colliders are designed to circulate proton beams in opposite directions and collide the beams head on in several designated "interaction points." The goal of such experiments is to convert the kinetic energy of the colliding protons to produce and measure exotic massive particles. The proposed SSC in the U.S. was designed to circulate protons at 20 TeV (A TeV is a unit of energy equal to 1 trillion electron volts.) in each direction or 40 TeV of available energy for the interactions, Jui said.

For comparison, the proton-antiproton collider at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab run by the U.S. Department of Energy in Batavia, Ill., provides 1 TeV for each beam. Previous experiments there and elsewhere have all failed to observe the Higgs boson. If these particles are found, the standard model, more than a quarter-century after its articulation, will finally be complete.

The LHC will simulate interactions under way a million times a second or more since the Earth acquired a thick atmosphere, Jui said, noting that the the collisions of proton beams equivalent in energy of 100 to 1,000 TeV each.

"Some theorists have in recent years surmised the occurrence of micro black holes, which might be producible in a collider," Jui said. "There is no experimental evidence for this phenomenon. Most experimentalists have tended to not even comment on the rather fanciful speculation that the production of such entities might lead to the destruction of the Earth."

The phenomenon in the real world was carefully tracked between May 1997 and April 2006 by the U.'s High Resolution Fly's Eye Experiment. An international consortium is continuing to the gather data on the cosmic rays at the Telescope Array Project near Delta. More information is available at www.cosmic-ray.org

/reading/learn1.html, at findarticles.com/p/articles

/mi_qn4188/is_20070305

/ai_n18722313 and at www .telescopearray.org.

Detailed parameters of the LHC can be found at quench

-analysis.web.cern.ch/quench

-analysis/phd-fs-html/node5 .html.


E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com