Following a series of delays, some physicists have begun to ask if the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is being sabotaged by the future. Aoife Crowley investigates this strange hypothesis to see if God really does hate Higgs Bosen particles.
Picture the scene. In an unspecified but not too distant future, we are doomed. A giant blackhole has opened up in the centre of the universe, and it’s only a matter of time before the entire cosmos is swallowed. The remnants of mankind have turned feral, eking out an existence in caves, or perhaps on islands made out of rubbish, like that film Waterworld.
Who knew that a simple flick of a switch way back in 2010 could set in motion the chain of events that led to such disaster? Luckily, due to that very same machine that caused our downfall, wormholes and wrinkles in time are now abundant. Our only hope is to send something back to change the past. And so, the human race entrusts the future of the universe to a bird, carrying a chunk of baguette. As the noble bird soars through the wormhole, a species holds its breath. But we’ll return to that later.
The alternative explanation for the series of unfortunate events that have befallen the LHC is hardly less bizarre. Two otherwise respected physicists are now claiming that the much hypothesized Higgs Boson particle might have a “backward causation” effect to stop itself being discovered. In other words, the particle does not wish to be created, or its creation would have such cataclysmic results that the actual universe itself does not wish for it to be created. Thus, at the moment that it is created in the future, forces travel back in time to sabotage the collider before it gets the chance to be made. In pop culture terms, this is basically what happens in Back to the Future, when Marty McFly travels back in time and accidentally erases his future self by stopping his parents from falling in love.
But before we go any further, it would possibly be beneficial to explain what the LHC and the Higgs Boson particle actually are. The LHC, or Large Hadron Collider, is the most expensive and massive science experiment in history. The 27 kilometre circuit track, buried nearly 200 metres below the Franco-Swiss border, has so far cost over $9 billion. CERN scientists are hoping that by smashing proton beams together on this track, they will be able to recreate the conditions that existed during the first trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.
At this point in history, it is believed that the universe was still evolving out of endless potential into the forces and particles that make up our reality today. One of the main hypotheses that they hope to prove is the existence of the Higgs Boson particle. This particle, if it exists, is what imbues other elementary particles with mass. Proving its existence would prove the Standard Model, which rules almost all of physics.
The only problem is that the future has cursed the project.
The hypothesis seems so bizarre as to be laughable, but for the fact that it is supported by two leading physicists, Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan. They have postulated this idea over the last two years, publishing it in a series of scientific papers with titles such as “Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal”.
The most interesting aspect of this is that Nielsen and Ninomiya began pushing their theory that all Higgs producing machines would be cursed by bad luck before the LHC’s string of setbacks and problems started to occur.
But surely on a project of this scale, setbacks and problems are to be expected? Naturally that is the case, but the regularity and the nature of these setbacks have led some naysayers to wonder if Nielsen and Ninomiya might be on to something.
The first main issue occurred in March 2007, when a magnet support broke during a pressure test. Fermilab and KEK had provided the magnet. Director of Fermilab, Pier Oddone, stated that they were “dumbfounded” as to how they had missed “some very simple balances of forces”. The fault which caused the collapse had been present in the original designs and gone unnoticed in four engineering reviews over the subsequent years. This setback caused delays to the LHC’s planned startup date.
The next major problem happened on 19 September 2008. A rupture leaked six tonnes of liquid helium, again delaying operations for several months. Two further vacuum leaks were identified in July 2009, and the start up date was again pushed back to November 2009.
During the lead up to November, a short hiatus was necessitated again after one of the particle physicists working on the collider was arrested on suspicion of conspiring with Al Qaeda.
But November 2009 was when things really started to get a bit meta. Once again, scientists noticed something was going wrong. An inspection of their cooling system found that one of the high voltage installations was being jammed. What was causing the obstruction? None other then that chunk of baguette we mentioned earlier, which had become wedged in the wiring.
According to CERN, “nobody knows how it got there”. Using her loaf, a spokeswoman speculated that “the best guess is that it was dropped by a bird, either that or it was thrown out of a passing airplane.”
After repairs, the collider was started up for some tests briefly in December, setting world records for most energetic particle collisions ever achieved in a lab. It was then shut down for the Christmas season, and the current plan is for it to begin doing “real physics” in early March. Whether the future will again intervene to cause delays is not yet known.
But perhaps we should not mock these theories. After all, Einstein himself wrote, “for those of us who believe in physics, this separation between past, present and future is only an illusion”. Perhaps the LHC really is being clock-blocked. We’ll just have to wait until March to find out.