Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is there life after CERN?

Is there life after CERN? Will a black hole swallow the earth? Such titled PM magazine in its July issue that my husband bought and kindly showed to me upon my arrival in Germany. He means well, I should add, my blood pressure is often too low, especially after long-distance flights, and in such condition I'm not good for anything.

PM is a popular German magazine that reports in a usually entertaining way on science and engineering. I never much read it because to my taste there's always been too much engineering in it, but it makes for a nice read on the beach or so. The PM article about black holes at the LHC is unfortunately a) in German and b) not available online, but you can look at the two-page illustration here and read the first paragraphs here. You get the flavor I presume, we've all seen numerous articles of that sort during the last months. For an extensive discussion of the key points, see our previous posts on Micro Black Holes, Black Holes at the LHC - again, Black Holes at the LHC - What can happen, and Black Holes at the LHC - the CERN Safety report.

Regarding the PM article, we could not restrain from writing a letter to the editor that referred specifically to the last part of the article, in which they introduce the allegedly ingenious idea of how to supply the world's demand of energy with black hole relics. I commented on this previously in my post 'Micro Black Day'. The idea is roughly that in case the LHC produces black holes, and these happen to not evaporate completely but leave behind stable remnants (relics) one could use these relics to convert arbitrary matter in radiation energy. The picture, so I guess, I to collect the relics, shovel in garbage upon which they gain mass, radiate down again to the relic mass, thereby emitting clean energy with an average temperature of some hundred GeV.

Here is a rough translation of our letter that comments on this scenario:
    Letter to "Will a Black Hole swallow Earth?" PM 07 / 2008

    As physicists who have worked for several years on the possible production of black holes at the LHC we were disappointed by your article. Instead of discussing the interesting aspects of the science involved, like Hawking-radiation or generally collider physics, you produce a sensational article about a constructed doomsday scenario.

    Especially inappropriate is your mentioning of "Scenario No 3: Free energy in abundance," referring to a patent filed by Prof. Horst Stöcker. To begin with, it is completely wrong that "researchers find more and more hints that black holes do not completely evaporate". There are no hints whatsoever, and nothing changed about that recently. This possibility can just not be outruled.

    Worse than this inaccuracy however is that your estimate about the "harvesting" of black hole radiation ignores the fact that one has to run a particle collider the size of the LHC to produce these black holes in the first place. The power consumption of CERN to run the LHC is about 240 Megawatt, about one fifth of a nuclear power plant. Even with the very optimistic estimate that the LHC produces about one black hole per second, this would then take about 70 kWh each - this is the mass equivalent of about 1018 protons or 1015 times the mass of the black hole itself. The black hole therefore has to convert about one billion billion protons into radiation in order to generate a net energy gain. In addition one has to take into account that even if these black hole relics can be produced, they have a very small cross-section and - similarly to neutrinos - will pass through all kinds of matter almost without interaction and will generally escape into outer space. Unless, that is, they carried electric charge, which could happen for purely stochastic reasons for about 2/3 of these black hole relics. However, if one "feeds" the black hole relics and lets them evaporate down to relic mass again, the end product will in one out of three cases be neutral again and escape. Therefore, it is practically impossible to reach only approximately the break-even-point of 1018 protons to be converted into energy: one had to constantly reproduce the black holes.

    And with that we haven't even touched the question of how long it would take to get a "truck with only ten tons normal matter" to "cover the energy supply of the whole earth" into such a black hole with a cross-section of 10-32 cm2 - as mentioned, this cross-section is extremely small: the radius of the black hole of about 10-18 m stands in relation to the width of a needle with a diameter of about 1mm as the width of the needle to the average distance of the earth to the sun.

    As far as we know, Prof. Stöcker's filed in patent was declined. The idea you are advertising here is scientifically complete nonsense.

To restore the scientific credibility (well, I'm not completely heartless) of Prof. Horst Stöcker and Prof. Marcus Bleicher who grin from a photo in that magazine, let me point you towards a very nice article by them that was on the arxiv today
    Exclusion of black hole disaster scenarios at the LHC
    arXiv:0807.3349 [hep-ph]

    The upcoming high energy experiments at the LHC are one of the most outstanding efforts for a better understanding of nature. It is associated with great hopes in the physics community. But there is also some fear in the public, that the conjectured production of mini black holes might lead to a dangerous chain reaction. In this paper we summarize the most straightforward proofs that are necessary to rule out such doomsday scenarios.
in which you find plenty of 'diskussions'.


  1. Crabgrass to poison ivy are pimped as the Energy Revolution. Oil tycoon T. Boon Pickens wants 100 GW of windfarms (no environmental footprint). Nobel Laureate and Oscar winner Al Gore gushes smarm.

    Southern California Edison rates increase 30% end of year. A blackout lottery blankets its service territory for it cannot power customers on hot days. Will ten compact fluorescent lights offset 1+ million Mexicans annually flooding across the border into California?

    A tsunami of LHC black holes Officially cores the planet and collapses it like a rotted pumpkin. Uncle Al says, "double the luminosity."

  2. i am new to this forum - so if a gaffé is perceived just "kick me, gently"

    If positive results are obtained from the LHC i hope the world governments officially recognize the immense collaborative effort involved. While CERN has achieved great scientific cooperation their efforts on "public" information were minimal. The efforts on the Safety of CERN (LHC) experiments were an afterthought and infused with scientific jargon. The public reaction to this information was mistrust, alarm and fear with a distinct impression of an "ivory tower" mentality.

    I recently retired and returned to the university for some basic understanding of cosmology. During each lecture the professor bemoaned the lack of government (public) support but when i suggested that he should be responsible for generating that "public rapport" the reaction varied from bemused indifference to reactive defiance.

    I know the results from the LHC and other experiments from CERN will generate much scientific enthusiasm within the research community but i hope this same community will perceive the necessity of generating public interest and support.

  3. NSF annual budget is ~$(US)5 billion - all of physical science. Head Start annual budget is ~$(US)6 billion - coddling morons. Iraq war is ~$(US)5 billion/week - for what?

    "House readies vote on bill to offer up to $300 billion in mortgages and back up Fannie and Freddie. Bush says he'll sign it. Senate approval likely."

    Cthulhu for President! Why settle for the lesser evil? Go LHC!

  4. Science finds it hard to compete with science fiction perhaps on the public relations front.



  6. "The PM article about black holes at the LHC article is unfortunately a) in German and b) not available online, but you can look at the two-page illustration here and read the first paragraphs here." [Bee]

    Here is a translation using

    Translation: German » English

    P.M. Magazin 07/2008

    Particle Physics
    Is there a life after CERN?


    On 21 October, in Geneva experiment, which all power is beyond imagination. The first time in human history are to be black holes are created. The researchers swarm from the beginning of a new era of science. But anxious voices warn that our entire planet could be destroyed.

    The moment of truth nears. On 21 October, Beethoven sounds ( "joy, beautiful spark of the gods") the ceremony for the world event highlight. Some speak of a miracle - the other by the end of the world.

    In order to clock 10.30 expresses ausgeloster a researcher at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva the red launch button for an experiment in which each is beyond imagination. The first time in the history of mankind on earth will be black holes are created.

    More about
    > P.M. Video: Verschluckt black hole the earth?

    In addition, exotic formations such as wormholes generated, the so-Fantastic as time travel possible. As a "spin-off" is also a source of inexhaustible energy - the human race would be their greatest concern going on.

    If we CERN comparable states such paradise - or hell? The "black holes" could mutate to voracious monsters, which devour everything: CERN, Geneva, including across Lake Geneva, Switzerland, Europe and eventually the whole world. Previously, some scientists now warn - and action against the Husarenstück.

    Author (s): Joseph Scheppach

    You do not have a question about? Now P.M. Better knowledge.

    Subscribers can the full article for free. Click here.

    You can use the items for 0.60 euros to buy. To pay offers you the means of payment FIRSTGATE. You can easily and securely over FIRSTGATE click & buy ® the payment.

  7. Death is a singularity, but stupidity is eternal.

  8. Suppose there is some tiny but finite probablity of the creation of a micro black hole, strangelet or some other quantum particle which grows to devour the earh and turn it into a black hole? According to the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, if that would happen, we would still wake up the next day, but only in a parrallel universe in which that finite probability of Armegedon did not materialize! And we would never even be aware that in our prior universe the earth had suffered a sudden implosion and was now a small speck of lifeless plasma. And as the LHC experiments continued in our "new" universe, if by chance Armegedod happened again, then once again we would simply continue on, without skipping a heartbeat, in another parallel universe where the quantum dice rolled a more likely and more favorable outcome. Thus, if mankind's worst nightmares regardng the LHC do come true, then humans will never know it, for they will by necessity simply continue on in a parllel universe in which the nightmares do not come true. So, there is nothing to worry about. :>)

    Note: The Many Worlds interpretation of quantuum mechanics, has been espoused by physicists such as Wheeler, Dewitt, Penrose, Hawkins and others.

    (Personally, I have no belief in the Many Worlds interpretation.)

  9. Hi Bee,

    This is one of those times I wish I could read German since I would have liked to know if Prof. Horst Stöcker had come up with a technique to separate the reactor grade remnants from the weapon grade ones:-) Seriously though, it appears that the German popular science magazines score no better in the accuracy department then the American ones. Also, it looks like a good headline will hold sway over good science reporting almost every time. The good news is at least they are viewing it from the point of view that a black hole is something we might tame and master. It is unfortunate though they don’t instead use the ink to go into more depth about what the LHC was truly designed for, which is not a black hole factory or a doomsday experiment. I’m further convinced it simply mirrors what I understand as the publics attitude about science in general. This is a sad thing, for at a point in history when we will need it most of all it is trusted the least.

    Oh yes my congratulations and appreciation to you and Stepfan for spending the time and effort to rebuke and criticize such drivel. If more informed scientists as yourselves were to do this we may not be presented so often with such articles and the repercussions they have.



  10. Hi Phil,

    hm, I am not sure if we can blame Horst Stöcker for the quite bad reporting in this issue of the magazine - I can imagine that they had not even contacted him for this piece.

    Most of the material used in the article was already mentioned before somewhere else, for example in a press release by the University of Frankfurt from January 2007 and in a magazine of the University PDF file, and what's different is essentially the presentation which has been pimped up a bit...

    The recent paper on the fate of black holes at the LHC and the risk they may pose (or not) is a very reasonable, digestible publication (and more accessible than the monumental Giddings-Mangano paper) and well worth a look. But I guess PM would never report about such a paper...

    Cheers, Stefan

  11. Sad to say, but if there weren't any stories about the black holes, there would probably be zero interest in the LHC at all.

    Maybe you guys should say you ARE producing Killer Black Holes and hold the earth to ransom.

  12. Phil:It is unfortunate though they don’t instead use the ink to go into more depth about what the LHC was truly designed for, which is not a black hole factory or a doomsday experiment.

    Perhaps Phil this is exactly what is needed. Point by point form? Te web site of Cern is informative, if one uses it.

    We know it is an impressive microscope probing the energies of some trillion electron volts. Like any frontier this provides the grounds for new understandings in regards to the standard model, and opportunities for theorists.

    There will always be those who cannot even name their own prime minister, presidents or vice presidents. Why would you think they would know anything about the LHC?:)

    So one might ask what is the level of interest by the public with regards to what scientists are doing? How much money is being contributed?


  13. Its about twenty years since I browsed
    through one of that "PM" magacines.
    My impression then was, that it is a
    paper aiming for that kind of people
    which believe in Daenikens nonsense.

  14. Hi Stefan,

    I must in part apologize, for as you point out I was perhaps a little too hard on Prof. Stöcker. I haven’t found time to read his paper you pointed to about the LHC and black holes yet, although I certainly will in the near future. On the other hand, with him seeking a patent for utilizing black hole remnants as an energy source in respect to Bee and yourself indicating it as being not scientifically sound does give one reason to wonder and at the same time brings into question other things he may claim to be a expert.



  15. Just like google maps, live feed can easily be gotten around if one desired?:)

    To Georg's comment.

    And look how you've grown?:)

    I think people can become "intrigued by the artifacts." I know I certainly was and still am:)Shadows and all.

    Some may have taken it to a more "subtle form," as Kip Thorne has, or Wheeler, with his geons?:)

    What evidence shall this give us of events so far in the past? Push perspective back far enough and what will the event reveal? A GUT in every "thing?"

  16. Surely the 'readable' paper is actually the Ellis one:

    Of course no matter how simple you make the arguments, many people in the big wide world will never get the message...

    What LHC arguably missed is the chance to get a collaboration of real outsiders (ie non-CERN employees) writing essentially the same paper. By having Ellis, the boss of CERN theory, as first author they are still vulnerable to claims that they are biased in favour of running their own experiment.

    Yes, I know that the truth of a scientific proposition doesn't depend on who is presenting it. But the effectiveness of a public relations exercise, which any LHC safety report necessarily has to do duty as, is highly dependent on who is speaking.

    By the way 'gaffe' does not have an accent, it is not loaned from French like 'cafe' or 'saute'. Anyway, it is generically difficult to explain anything about particle physics accurately without using some vocabulary from particle physics, which the average reader will not be familiar with.

    If you start trying to simplify things to the extent that people can take it in without any effort, you will almost certainly be inaccurate, and in an argument about safety that is lethal. If it came to the fate of the Earth I'd rather have an accurate explanation that took some effort to understand, than an oversimplified one that looked plausible at first but contained many apparent loopholes.

    Nevertheless, it *is* fairly easy to boil down the argument into a couple of sentences. Nature does collisions in the vicinity of the Earth that are already more energetic and frequent than LHC's via cosmic rays, but the planets and other stuff around us have not been destroyed by that. Giddings and Mangano is simply (?) a more detailed calculation of how exactly, *if* lethal non-radiating black holes were to be created, they would have destroyed things that we observe as not having been destroyed.

  17. Cosmic rays have been hitting stationary Earth particles for millions of years, bouncing them at high speeds harmlessly into space. Earth can't move a fraction of a centimeter without getting hit by cosmic rays, so there is no way CERN can compare colliding protons in the LHC to that. In the LHC, protons traveling at near light speed from one direction in the LHC are not hitting stationary protons, but hitting protons traveling in the opposite direction at the same speed, aimed at the same point which is not happening in nature. And what happens when objects collide at the same speed and point of collision, nothing bounces away, so any black holes created by colliding protons will be captured by the Earth's gravity and grow.

    It justs takes simple physics to figure this out, not a PHD, even though I have one in this field.

    Risking the planet to test unproven theories which CERN's safety report is based on is madness.

  18. Quin,

    What you say is incorrect. We have discussed that in great length in our previous post, and you find it discussed in even greater length in the CERN Safety Report. For one, black holes undergo rapid Hawking radiation and decay almost immediately, within the collision region, long before they read even the detector. They travel some fm before they decay. A fm is 10^-15 m. Second, the idea that because the LHC collides protons head on the produced particles are in rest with the earth is complete nonsense. If two cars crash into each other with 50 mph each, debris flies away to all sides. Now consider what happens if they crash into each other with 99.9999% of the speed of light in a totally inelastic collision. A very high fraction of the produced stuff flies away to all sides, where it either hits the detector or goes through the detector (like e.g. neutrinos). We have discussed that here and it is also discussed in the above mentioned paper. and I would really appreciate if you, before you continue to distribute misinformed nonsense do as much as read the essential pieces of information. Thanks,


  19. typo: that should have been 'reach' the detector, not 'read'

  20. Hallo Stefan and Bee,
    I am a newcomer to the comment section.
    I am finishing my M.Sc. thesis on Shock Waves in Heavy Ion Collisions and every time I search for a nice picture to put on my thesis or presentation I end up in this blog (particularly on a very nice picture of the QGP). It is amazing! Finally I took the time to read some posts and its comments.

    This post specifically caught my attention for the involvement of Prof. Stöcker on a patent filing on blackhole derived usable energy! What!? Do you have more details on this such as the filing contents? Has he gone mad or is the story not quite so bad.

    Actually, I read (part of) Stöcker et al.'s last parper on arXiv and I got also very amused by the diskussions carried out there XD

    Just to mention, Bee, your analogy with the car crash debris was just wonderful. I'll use it with my scared family and friends back here in Brazil. Yes, even in Brazil people have listened to the apocalyptic machine that will eat the earth: the LHC.
    It is very hard to convince non-physicists that physicist know what they are doing.
    The cultural gap is huge.

    I have even heard of a absurd claim that there was an international conspiracy to hide the dangers of LHC from the general public so that the experiments could keep running and make profit(!). Ok: let's play of destroying the planet just to get some money. That sounds pretty much like the... Scientific Community. No?

    To keep the humor high I would cite a previous comment:
    "Death is a singularity, but stupidity is eternal"
    and stick to andy.s' remark and demand a ransom! XD
    Maybe a Ph.D. scholarship would be just fine.

    I would like to congratulate you both for this great blog. I am sure to become an avid reader.

  21. Hi Ph. Mota,

    Thanks for the kind words. Reg Horst's patent goto

    Enter 102006007824.1 for 'Aktenzeichen'. You'll see that it draws heavily on some of my publications, which is why I find this particularly annoying. I can send you a copy of the full thing if you want. Best,


  22. Hi Ph. Mota,

    thanks that you like the blog :-)... BTW, we have met last April in Frankfurt, where you have attended a workshop? You work in the group of Takeshi Kodama?

    As for the patent, I understood Horst in a way that he also wanted to demonstrate that the new requirement at German universities for professors to file patents can have absurd results, depending of the field you are working on...

    Cheers, Stefan

  23. Hey Stefan!
    Wie geht's?
    That's me indeed :D
    I have very nice memories (and pictures) of the tour you gave us in Frankfurt. How are things there in Frankfurt?

    I feel foolish not to have recognized you before. Actually, it crossed my mind when I saw your picture on the blog, I got this feeling of "this is familiar", but then I thought: what are the odds?! Now I like this blog better XD

    As for Prof. Stöcker, now it makes more sense. Sarcasm is indeed a nice weapon against mindless bureaucrats' requirements. However, he may be getting far heavy critics among the community by those who can't spot this at first glance (including me). Kinda shot in the foot, I would think.
    In this lecture I found in google, the speaker even uses "shame" to classify it by the 19th slide.
    However I admire him for the audacious move, if this was indeed his intention.

    A little off-topic, but, Stefan, are you planning to come to Rio de Janeiro for RANP2008 conference in November? If so, I will be pleased to return the favor and show you the city around?

    You both encouraged me to subscribe to blogger and now I have a picture and a new name :D

  24. Reading more of the blog, I stopped by the post where you tell about your relation with physics and why your are not in academia anymore.
    It answers my question about the conference in Rio... too bad :(
    Even so, if you happen to visit Rio, the offer is still up :D

  25. Hi Philip,

    sorry for the delay with my answer, but yesterday was my move form Frankfurt to Heidelberg, and I was a bit disconnected. Yes, the tour of Frankfurt last year was very nice, and when you come to Germany again, we will make the tour of Heidelberg! BTW, did I send you the photos I had taken of you in the pub?

    Actually, I had quitted "academic" physics already last year when you visited Germany, but my job now is still related to physics, at least. But no, I don't attend heavy-ion physics conferences anymore, unless it's a workshop at Frankfurt/Heidelberg/GSI and I can get a bit of free time.

    Cheers, Stefan


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