The article concerns a scientific instrument called the Large Hadron Collider, operated by the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire outside Geneva. The LHC, which is in the final stages of being cooled to within a few degrees of absolute zero, is the largest particle accelerator (or, if you will, "atom smasher") ever built. I did a research fellowship at Caltech in 2004 with Harvey Newman's group, working on ways of managing the massive amounts of data (terabit scale) pouring out of an instrument, called the Compact Muon Solenoid detector, to be installed at the LHC. Yeah yeah yeah I know, this is deeply geeky, but some incredible science work is about to be done in Europe that may change forever the way we perceive the universe.
However, there is a court challenge in America -- and isn't it always the Americans with their court challenges? ;-) -- that is attempting to stop the experiment from going forward. William L. Wagner, a colourful individual who, among other things, founded a "World Botanical Gardens" that blocked one of my favourite mountain biking trails near my old home in Hakalau, Hawai'i, is now trying to block this experiment as well.
Basically, Wagner (who was a nuclear safety engineer before he began soaking that Umauma hillside with glyphosate, though his doctorate is in biology) fears that the high energies produced by the LHC may cause "mini black holes" to be formed, or micromicroscopic bits of strange matter called strangelets. The danger of these little bits is presented as a sort of ice-nine scenario, where the strangelet creates a chain reaction that turns every nucleus of every atom of normal matter on earth into strange matter. Freaky stuff.
Fortunately, this has been extensively studied already, and given the difficulty of proving a negative, scientists believe the possibility of this happening to be very very minute. Wagner brought a similar lawsuit to stop the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider from being commissioned. He was unsuccessful, and astute readers may have noticed that the Earth did not turn into "a hot, large lump of strange matter" when the RHIC came online back in 2000.
Wagner's story gets more amusing the more you look into it. He has appeared on the tinfoil-hat radio show Coast to Coast to talk about some of his "scientific discoveries". And he and his wife were indicted last month by a grand jury on counts of identity theft and attempted theft relating to an alleged attempt to obtain $340,000 from the botanical garden he started on that chunk of sugarcane land in Hawai'i.
Wagner says that he and his wife were owed the money, since they worked for free at the gardens for years. But after the board fired them both, they then sued the company for back pay. But the company says the pair failed to notify the directors of the action, with Wagner instead serving the papers on his own wife as company treasurer - even though she no longer was. The board says that Wagner - hilariously - then appeared in court as a company officer. He was thus able to gain a default judgment in his own lawsuit's favour, all without the knowledge of the board.
He lost the suit, and his appeal was rejected just this month. I have many years of built-up dislike for the dude, but I must admit that, having read this, I'd like to meet this guy once. This is world-class chutzpah we're talkin' here... the guy would definitely be worth a laugh.
Anyway, I was struck by the confluence of my old neighbor and my old research project, as I'm preparing my life for another radical change. Maybe we're all going to turn into strangelets come August. All the more reason to live life to the fullest..