If you read about a super high-tech science facility smashing atomic particles together at fantastic speeds and you picture a growing black hole that devours the Earth (!)…you might be a science fiction writer. Either that or a B-movie addict. Or a protestor at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland.

In the coming weeks the LHC will do its best to produce some black holes, but they’re not mad scientists planning to destroy the world. Really. What they are hoping for is evidence of parallel universes. As in, universes that exist beyond the four dimensions we know (length, breadth, height, and time). New theories suggest that gravity may leak from our universe into other dimensions (and is the only thing that can travel between them) and the experiment at the LHC is looking for the proof. If microscopic black holes are produced/detected, they will be evidence of the existence of these parallel universes.

Don’t confuse this with the “multi-worlds theory” of quantum mechanics from Hugh Everett in the 1950’s. That theory claims that slightly different universes are being spun off every moment because of all of the possibilities that can exist when a traveling particle comes to a fork in the road and goes both ways. (That idea has inspired lots of alternate history stories and TV shows like Sliders, but it’s not provable.) No, a researcher with the new LHC experiment describes the parallel universes they’re looking for as if our universe is a sheet of paper in a stack of many more sheets of paper.

Of course, I’m always looking for the science fiction take on stories like this. The giant Earth-gobbling black hole is one possibility (and worried enough people that they filed lawsuits to try to stop the Large Hadron Collider from being built). But the idea of micro-miniature black holes intrigues me too. Imagine a series of mysterious deaths in Geneva and their corpses are found to have microscopic tunnels like wormholes tunnelled through them! Of course one of the victims would have to be the lover of one of the experiment’s lead scientists—just to add extra emotional depth, don’t you know. Or maybe gravity goes weird and the city starts looking like the famous M.C. Escher lithograph “Relativity” (with no consistent up or down). What if the combination of the LHC’s magnetic field and the black holes pulls asteroids out of space into collision with Earth? (Some conspiracy theorists are apparently already claiming this.)

Parallel universes offer even more fodder for imagination. Maybe our own universe originally came from one of those. Or perhaps life originated there instead of here. Or perhaps we somehow go there when we die.

OK, OK…most of these are still sounding like B-movie ideas, but you have to admit that the thought of protons smashing together at 99.9% of the speed of light with energies of nearly 12 Tera electron volts does fire the imagination.

The likely reality? The LHC team will detect some things never seen before and add to our knowledge of the universe. The world won’t even hiccup. And that’s good too.


It’s always interesting to follow the top science stories and let your imagination run free. For any SF writer, I’d say it’s an essential exercise. Over the past week:

Remember all the fuss in 2006 when Pluto was downgraded from planet status to the new category of “dwarf planet”? That was because other bodies just as large had been discovered beyond Pluto’s orbit (Eris, Haumea, and others) and within the asteroid belt (Ceres). Scientists got their first good look at one called Makemake recently when it passed it front of distant stars. Unlike Pluto, Makemake appears to have no atmosphere, although its covering of methane ice might vaporize when its orbit brings it to its closest approach to the sun. Dwarf planets aren’t exactly hospitable, but they’d be a whole lot more accessible than the gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. Even the concept of asteroids or dwarf planets being converted into giant luxury resorts isn’t so far-fetched. A continent-sized skating rink, anyone?

Meanwhile, John Grotzinger, project scientist with NASA’s Mars Rover mission told an NPR reporter that a chemistry lab aboard the Curiosity rover had made a discovery that would be one for the history books, but he refused to elaborate until the data has been thoroughly checked. That set off a flurry of speculation—the discovery might be anything from definite signs of life (my own opinion) to proof of space aliens (I really doubt it). Definitive proof of life beyond Earth will finally give science fiction writers license to embody just about any setting we can imagine with exotic species (we do it anyway, but we’d really love to be able to say, “I told you so.”)

A third story involved the hunt for the ultimate sub-atomic particle, the famous Higgs boson, the proposed particle at the very root of physical structure that would complete our picture of why objects have mass. Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland are nearly certain that they’ve found it (or at least confirmed its existence by observing its by-products). Yet there’s been a measure of disappointment in the announcements. The particle appears to behave exactly according to theory, but that’s the problem. If it had been found to have unexpected properties, that would have been a step toward confirming some of the more exotic theories of physics. As it is, the straightforward Higgs boson just adds support to the current model of the universe. So what’s left to discover? To the particle physicists I say, “Don’t worry”—in 1900 Lord Kelvin is reputed to have said, “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now; All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” It may have been a misquote, but the opinion wasn’t uncommon at the end of the Victorian era. It wasn’t true then and it isn’t true now.

I’m still confident that the universe is as limitless as our imagination.