MIT physicist gets death threats over collider experiment

Particle collision experiments fuel fears that black hole will swallow the universe

An MIT physics professor and Nobel laureate has received death threats because of his involvement with the Large Hadron Collider, which performed the world's biggest physics experiment today.

Frank Wilczek, whose research interests include particle physics and cosmology, received the threats as the collider made its first test run, which is widely considered a major milestone in particle physics.

Jen Hirsch, a spokeswoman for MIT, said campus and Cambridge, Mass., police have been notified of the threats.

While scientists are using the collider to find an answer to how the universe was created, there have been increasing rumors circulating around the Internet that the experiments will destroy the Earth and possibly the entire galaxy. People have been fearful that when the particles collide at high energy, they will create a black hole that will suck everything and everyone into it.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, which operates the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), released a report late last week contending that that such safety fears are "unfounded." CERN Director General Robert Aymar was quoted as saying that any suggestion that there's a risk is "pure fiction."

"The doomsayers just don't understand," said Bolek Wyslouch, a professor of physics at MIT who has been working on the collider project for the past seven years. "We live in a world where media, television and movies make claims, and I'm sure people are confused between reality and fiction and may go to extremes. You don't usually hear so much in the media about the possibility of destroying the Earth. It's absurd."

Hirsch noted that Wilczek sat on the science advisory committee at the LHC for six years but is no longer associated with the project. However, according to a report on MSNBC.com, Wilczek took the government's side in a recent U.S.-based lawsuit filed by a retired nuclear safety officer and a Spanish science writer who called for more safety reviews to be done before any experiments are conducted at the collider.

A similar suit was filed in Europe. Neither court would delay the experiments.

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