Stop the scientists before they destroy us all!
That's what a Hawaii man with a background in nuclear physics is asking a court to do.
Walter F. Wagner and his colleague Luis Sancho have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop work on the Large Hadron Collider, a gigantic atom smasher on the Franco-Swiss border that's set to start operations in May.
Physicists hope its incredible energies will form briefly-lived new particles that could shed light on the origins of the universe, among other marvels.
The plaintiffs' concerns? That the LHC could accidentally create strange new particles that would instantly transform any matter they touched, engulfing the Earth, or, even worse, make a rapidly expanding black hole that could consume the entire planet.
"[T]he compression of the two atoms colliding together at nearly light speed will cause an irreversible implosion, forming a miniature version of a giant black hole," reads the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.
"[A]ny matter coming into contact with it would fall into it and never be able to escape. Eventually, all of earth would fall into such growing micro-black-hole, converting earth into a medium-sized black hole, around which would continue to orbit the moon, satellites, the ISS, etc."
Named as defendants are the U.S. Department of Energy, the venerable DOE-owned Fermilab particle-accelerator facility outside Chicago, the "Center for Nuclear Energy Research (CERN)" and the National Science Foundation.
(CERN's full name is actually the European Organization for Nuclear Research; "CERN" is the French acronym for an earlier name.)
The lawsuit wants the LHC's opening to be delayed for several months so that outside experts can read the facility's internal safety review, which was to have been completed by Jan. 1 of this year but does not appear to have been released.
Wagner has even put up a Web site at http://www.lhcdefense.org/ detailing his concerns.
Not included among the documents is Wagner's own indictment last month on identity-theft charges tied to an ongoing legal battle over a botanical garden on the Big Island of Hawaii, but you can read about that here.
Most physicists say Wagner's worries are unfounded. Micro black holes would evaporate nearly instantly instead of combining to form larger ones, they say, and the "strangelet" particles he frets would freeze the world would in fact fall apart quickly.
Wagner's own background is a bit fuzzy. He claims to have minored in physics at U.C. Berkeley, gone to law school, taught elementary-school science and worked in nuclear medicine at health facilities — but he doesn't appear to have an advanced degree in science.
Sancho's qualifications are even murkier, but the lawsuit identifies him as a Spanish citizen residing in the U.S., even if his presence makes the entire case a bit, um, quixotic.
Fears that atom smashers will destroy the world have been around for decades and seem to come to the fore every time a new well-publicized facility comes online.
But no particle accelerator has ever come close to the power of the Large Hadron Collider.