September 17, 1999

 

Statement on ABCNEWS Website Article on RHIC


John Marburger, Director
Brookhaven National Laboratory

The September 14 edition of ABCNEWS.com includes an article by Fred Moody describing the views of David Melville, "an eccentric physicist and thinker," that suggests that collisions at Brookhaven Lab's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider can create a black hole that could "eat up the earth." The origin of the black hole would be the quark-gluon plasma, whose creation, under laboratory conditions, is a primary objective of RHIC experiments. Moody quotes Melville as saying, "It has been theorized by Steven Hawking that from this quark-gluon plasma other forms of matter are also produced. The most dangerous being a black hole."

The reference to Stephen Hawking, a prominent theoretical physicist, appears to give credence to the notion that RHIC experiments might be dangerous. In fact, the ideas of Melville, as represented by Moody, are entirely incorrect. RHIC will not re-create the Big Bang, which encompassed all the matter and energy in the universe, but rather an exceedingly small quantity of matter - roughly equivalent to one atom of material - in the quark-gluon plasma state.

Black holes require enormous concentrations of gravitational force, which can only come from enormous concentrations of matter. RHIC experiments involve essentially zero amounts of matter and will produce zero disturbance of the normal gravitational field of the earth.

There is simply not enough matter or energy in the RHIC collisions to create a black hole. This conclusion does not require difficult or obscure calculations and has not been questioned by any physicist in a relevant field who has considered the matter.

Moody refers to an exchange of letters in the July 1999 Scientific American Magazine and a story in the July 18 Sunday Times of London. In Scientific American a reader asks whether the RHIC collisions might create a black hole, and physicist Frank Wilczek, of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, responds, dismissing the possibility. This exchange motivated the Sunday Times story, to which I responded with a statement that Moody quotes correctly.

I expect that speculations about "doomsday scenarios" will continue to be discussed as RHIC experiments proceed. Some of these scenarios postulate interesting physical ideas, but they all must conform to very well confirmed laws of nature, and, therefore, their consequences can be predicted in detail. None poses any danger.

Scientists are no more willing to endanger the world, or themselves, than anyone else is. Speculations about possible dangerous consequences of RHIC collisions have been explored, analyzed and laid to rest long ago by men and women who also have families and hopes for the future. No one who is knowledgeable about the RHIC experiments believes any risks are present.

Contact:
Mona S. Rowe
Media and Communications Office
Brookhaven National Laboratory
PH: 516 344-5056

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