By Roger Highfield and Harry Wallop
The scientists behind the world’s biggest ever scientific experiment have received death threats from critics who claim it could cause the end of the world.
Experts are attempting to recreate the forces that occurred in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang, which created the universe.
The £4.4 billion machine at Cern, the European nuclear research organisation based near Geneva, will be switched on this Wednesday .
Some of the scientists working on the experiment, who include a Welsh miner’s son and a former pop star, have received threatening emails and been besieged by telephone calls from worried members of the public who fear the machine could cause earthquakes and tsunamis that will destroy the world.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will fire particles around its 17-mile tunnel. It will then smash protons — one of the building blocks of matter — into each other at energies up to seven times greater than any achieved before.
Scientists hope to recapture conditions not seen since near the birth of the universe almost 14 billion years ago. They could find answers to some of the biggest questions in physics, such as why the universe looks the way it does, and how to explain mass, gravity and mysterious “dark matter”.
They could also find the first evidence of extra spatial dimensions, and even create mini-black holes that blink in and out of existence in a fraction of a second.
Some sceptics remain unconvinced about its safety. Prof Otto Rossler, a German chemist who is one of a group of scientists attempting a last-minute court challenge to the project, is especially worried about the creation of black holes.
He believes it is possible that the black holes will grow uncontrollably and “eat the planet from the inside”.
Other scientists say this is complete nonsense. They point to the fact that cosmic rays hitting the Earth’s atmosphere should also be creating mini-black holes. Yet to date none of them has swallowed up the planet.
One of the leading figures behind the experiment is Dr Lynn Evans, the son of a miner, who said his fascination with science started as a boy, when he would create small explosions with his chemistry set at his council house in Aberdare.
Another is Prof Brian Cox of Manchester University, who played keyboards with D:Ream, whose hit Things Can Only Get Better was adopted by the Labour Party as its 1997 election anthem.
He said members of the team had received death threats, adding: “Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a t—.”
Prof Cox said: “There’s a kind of magic energy we’ve not been able to get to, and we know from previous experiments that’s where things happen. Now for the first time, we’ll be crossing that barrier.”
• LHC stands for Large Hadron Collider. Large due to its size (approximately 27 km in circumference), Hadron because it accelerates protons or ions, which are hadrons, and Collider because these particles form two beams travelling in opposite directions, which collide at four points where the two rings of the machine intersect.
• The precise circumference of the LHC accelerator is 26 659 m, with a total of 9300 magnets inside. It is as big as the London Underground’s Circle Line.
• All the magnets will be pre?cooled to -193.2°C (80 deg K) using 10,080 tonnes of liquid nitrogen, before they are filled with nearly 60 tonnes of liquid helium to bring them down to -271.3°C (1.9 deg K), making it the world’s largest fridge
• The Large Hadron Collider represents the largest sum of money to date invested by a UK Government in a single scientific project, more than £500m.
• At full power, trillions of protons will race around the LHC accelerator ring 11,245 times a second, travelling at 99.99% the speed of light.
• When two beams of protons collide, they will generate temperatures more than 100,000 times hotter than the heart of the Sun, concentrated within a minuscule space.