With all the media excitement surrounding the LHC, I thought it would be interesting to have a different take on the subject.
“No, not yet.”
It was 3am. They had been up all night, and it hadn’t happened yet. But they would be ready when it did.
Thirty-five hours a day, the telescope orbited, its unblinking eyes scanning the heavens for the slightest flicker of activity.
“The problem with random events is that you never know when they’re going to happen,” Varsha mused, unhelpfully. Aside from the two scientists, the facility was deserted and still. The computer hummed gently, somehow imbuing its immediate vicinity with a homeliness lacking in the rest of the office. At this unsociable hour, the room was unnaturally still, and the door, although only a few paces away, seemed unreachable. Rendered immobile by fatigue and tedium, they sat at their workstations and waited.
“No, not yet.”
“They said it would happen around midday. Maybe there’s been a problem with the power supply …”
It had been billed as the biggest physics experiment in human history. Representatives from more than one hundred countries had worked together to create an immense instrument capable, they hoped, of uncovering the deepest mysteries of the Universe. What did they call it? The Higgs Boson, the God Particle … the unseen player on the cosmic stage supposed to give matter the property of mass. The Beatles had been in the charts when the existence of the Higgs boson had been predicted, but after forty-five years of concentrated searching, it still hadn’t been found.
This time, it would be different.
“Quiet, it’s on the news …”
Alice turned up the volume.
The reporter had the look of a prophet about him. “If this experiment works,” he intoned, “then mankind will finally understand the fundamental nature of matter itself.”
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!”
“Shh! They’re going to talk to an expert!”
The camera panned out, bringing a nervous looking man into view. Clearly uncomfortable in front of the camera, but thrilled at the prospect of discussing his work with the eager public, the poor nuclear physicist did his best to look confident as a microphone was proffered in his general direction.
“It’s really exciting, the biggest experiment we’ve ever done. After waiting for so long, we’re finally going to get interesting results that could change science forever.”
“So there you have it. It really is the biggest experiment of all time. And now back to the studio …”
Back in the lab, the wide-eyed physicist, adrenaline still flowing from his recent media experience, considered what he should have said to the reporter. The buzz of excitement abated somewhat when he realised that he hadn’t been able to impart any useful information, only hype and hot air. Realising that he had allowed himself to get caught up in the frenzy; he scowled inwardly and got back to work. After three months of exhausting calibration, the accelerator was finally ready, and he couldn’t afford to lose concentration now.
4am. Greg stretched and yawned, looking forward to the approaching rendezvous with his mattress. Varsha, he noted, had nodded off some time ago, and was now dozing quietly in front of her screen. The stale, soporific atmosphere of the office was becoming unbearable. Gathering his resolve, he stood up, and overcoming his inertia, walked out into the cold, cloudless night.
Although the eastern horizon was stating to brighten, the western sky was still ablaze with myriad stars. He admired their reassuringly constant, understated majesty, and let their feeble light wash over him, feeling the roof lift off the world as he allowed his mind to stretch out across the vast cosmos.
The physicist was in his element.
“Time to switch-on, 3 minutes.”
Now was the journalist’s turn to look nervous. A rabbit in the headlights, he stared into the camera, and tried desperately to sound profound.
“Soon, we will understand everything in creation. Using this magnificent machine, physics may be completely turned on its head!”
The physicist reached across the instrument panel, and pushed an anonymous grey button, injecting two beams of protons into the immense ring. Thousands of relays clicked in sequence, the magnetic field fluctuating, chasing the particles, pushing them ever closer to the speed of light. At the appointed moment fifteen miles away, the beams collided, instantaneously converting matter to energy and back again.
The journalists held their breath, while the physicists fought with the controls. The collision had taken them by surprise; the readings were off the scale.
“Have we done it?”
“Not sure, hang on …”
The tense silence was broken by the sound of twisting metal. Deep inside the accelerator, new particles condensed out of the debris. Two Higgs bosons, finally released from the confines of matter, had gravitated together; warping the fabric of space-time beyond acceptable limits, creating a microscopic black hole. The tiny aberration drifted through the vacuum until it hit the wall of the accelerator, whereupon it started to feed.
Once it had started, nothing on Earth could stop it. The event horizon of the hole spread outwards, absorbing matter and energy at it went. As it grew, so did its gravitational field.
Unaware that anything was amiss, the journalist was ecstatic. Excitedly, he reported on the new science that might be discovered when the machine was ramped up to full power. The physicist knew better. Sitting serenely at his desk, he breathed deeply, savouring his last moments on Earth, and content that he had discovered the elusive Higgs boson. It was somehow fitting that he should be eaten alive by an astrophysical entity. There would be no more experiments. In fact, there was nothing to be done, except observe the expanding event horizon, and contemplate perfect oblivion.
Greg stared up at the pale sky, watching the suns rise over the horizon marking the start of a new day, and the end of his shift. He returned to the office to wake Varsha, but instead found her in a flurry of activity.
“Where have you been? We detected a burst about three minutes ago.”
Greg hurried to his workstation. “It’s big; the flux is huge. There’ll be papers about this one. Do you think we’ll ever understand where these gamma ray bursts come from?”
“Oh, maybe one day,” she responded. “And when we do, we’ll finally understand the fundamental nature of the Universe.”