revenge of the nerds

Tomorrow morning, they will finally flip the switch on the Large Hadron Collider, the big-ass particle accelerator that is expected to bring a greater understanding of how our universe was formed – unless it first obliterates our solar system, in which case: oops.

I wrote about the collider (collider? I hardly knew her!) a few months ago in the magazine. I’m reprinting the column here now because if the whole thing goes pear shaped, the few remaining microseconds of existence afforded me by this gaping black hole of interstellar destruction will not be sufficient to accommodate my shouts of: Suck it, physicists – I totally called this!

I have good news and I have bad news. The bad news is that Earth is going to be swallowed up and destroyed and we’re all going to be horribly, horribly killed. The good news is that it might happen before Michael Bay can finish making another stupid Transformers movie. Fingers crossed!

You read that right: according to a lawsuit, the Earth – our home planet and Al Gore’s steady girlfriend – will be obliterated before the end of the year. Its ruin will come at the hands not of space aliens, nor of gigantic mysterious sea creatures, nor even of a vengeful God weary of being asked to alter the outcome of professional sporting events and home pregnancy tests. No, the planet we know and love will be destroyed by… by… by nerds. And not just by any nerds – by physicists, the polyester drifters of the nerd populace.

The lawsuit, filed in Hawaii, calls for a prohibition on the use of the new $8-billion particle accelerator that’s nearing completion under the border between France and Switzerland. The suit claims that when the Large Hadron Collider is switched on, the massive discharge of energy will create a tiny black hole with the potential to consume the entire Earth and more. This is a complex scientific phenomenon known in the parlance of particle physicists as “bad.”

As we learned from the original Star Trek series, black holes are a region of space with gravitational fields so powerful that they make starship captains almost comically horny. But it might not be a black hole that kills us. The lawsuit, filed by a former nuclear safety officer and others, argues the Collider also has the potential to create something called a “strangelet,” which would transform our planet into what the New York Times described as “a shrunken dense dead lump” no more than 100 metres in diameter. (Even under such a scenario, it is estimated that 68% of Americans would continue to drive their SUVs to the corner store.)

It’s important to note that the allegations in the court documents are just that – allegations. People file lawsuits every day, and most of them are groundless and without merit, especially the one filed after I took off my shirt while mowing the lawn. (Sorry, neighbour – I still don’t see the connection between my “man boobs” and your “recurring nightmares about Jello.”)

For their part, scientists insist there’s nothing to worry about – that the odds of Earth being destroyed by the accelerator are equivalent to one person winning a national lottery three days in a row. And they’ve implemented a regimen of rigid safety protocols, including high-tech monitoring of energy levels and tricking the janitor into standing next to the thing when they first turn it on.

We are instead being urged to focus on what may be learned underground in the accelerator’s 27-kilometre circular tunnel. Researchers insist the Large Hadron Collider will help solve some of the deepest and most enduring mysteries of our universe – revealing the missing links in the Standard Model of particle physics and also how Ric Ocasek scored Paulina Porizkova (current theory: beer). Physicists hold out hope the accelerator will confirm the existence of magnetic monopoles. Plus it might give them super powers, and then we’ll see who gives whom a hard time about skin problems, buster.

But are these scientists hiding something? Is there actually a much greater likelihood of doomsday? You’d have to admit: as revenge fantasies go, this one has personality. Collectively, the top academic minds at the Large Hadron Collider have surely endured more purple nurples per capita than any demographic other than Chubby Shirtless Boys with Falsetto Voices. And now with a flip of the switch they can blast their tormentors into atomic dust – and de-atomize the cast of The Hills in the bargain. Tempting.

If we’re doomed, let’s not get so caught up in panicking and having rash, pre-apocalyptic sex with me that we overlook the fact we’ve had a good run as a species: Mastered the whole bipedal thing. Learn to communicate through speech. Invented the McMuffin. And that might just have to be enough, what with the final scenario described by the people behind the lawsuit. They make the case that even if the black hole doesn’t materialize, even if the strangelet is avoided, there remains a chance the accelerator could set off a chain reaction that would cause all protons in existence to decay.

Now personally, I’d make the case that protons had it coming – after all, they do help to form the physical matter on which Celine Dion’s music is recorded, and that’s not something you’re just going to get away with. That said, I am reliably informed that certain things can’t exist without protons, such as the universe or, more importantly, me. The question then is whether the eradication of the Celine Dion discography across all space and time is worth the permanent annihilation of all existence.

I’m going to have to say yes.

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