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Doomsday debate update

EIROforum / CERN
A hardhat worker is dwarfed by the inner workings of the Large Hadron

Collider's ATLAS detector. Click on the image for a larger version.

Could an atom-smasher really create Armageddon? You can delve into the subject with some summer reading as well as a real-life court case.

The next month should see further action in the doomsday lawsuit filed in March - the one claiming that mini-black holes from Europe's Large Hadron Collider could destroy the world. The plaintiffs in the case, Luis Sancho and Walter Wagner, want the CERN particle-physics center to put the $8 billion project on hold until more questions about such a scenario (and others) are answered to their satisfaction.

The federal government (that is, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and DOE-supported Fermilab) is one of the defendants in the case, and it's been served with a summons that requires a response by June 24. Wagner relayed word that Europe's CERN particle-physics center, the other major defendant, was served as well this week.

However, CERN spokesman James Gillies told me today he wasn't aware that any papers had been served. "We haven't received anything as yet," he said.

Gillies said scientists have finished updating a safety report that concludes the particle collider poses no danger of destroying the world. That report is to be presented to the CERN Council next month, and would then be released to the public, he said.

Between now and then, you can get your fix of doomsday speculation by reading Douglas Preston's "Blasphemy," this month's selection for the Cosmic Log Used-Book Club. The CLUB Club focuses on books with cosmic themes that should be available via secondhand-book sellers or your local library - and "Blasphemy" certainly fills the bill on the cosmic front.

The plot revolves (heh, heh) around a fictional particle accelerator that's even bigger than the Large Hadron Collider, built into a huge coal mine on land leased from the Navajos in Arizona. It pits a Svengali-like physicist and his loyal researchers against a doomsaying televangelist and his loyal acolytes, with a grizzled ex-CIA ex-monk in the middle.

It's not often that you come across a book that blends a murder mystery, a love story and a scientific thriller with visions of God (really!?) and an apocalyptic climax of biblical proportions.  But "Blasphemy" manages to put all that together, while also giving you a glimpse at what a proton accelerator actually does.

If you listen to the audio version, don't miss the after-the-book interview with Preston, conducted by Scientific American's John Rennie. You can hear the interview by clicking on a link from this Web page.

Do you have your own suggestions for summertime scientific pot-boilers? Herman Wouk's "A Hole in Texas," perhaps? Feel free to add your recommendations as comments below. If your choice becomes a CLUB Club selection, I'll send you a poster featuring cartoonist Roz Chast's particle art for Symmetry magazine.