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Smashing Atoms into Wormholes

It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the real action in Brainwalker starts when Bernard opens the hatch on a particle accelerator and goes through a wormhole into the Brainiverse. The question is just how plausible is it?

Before answering the question, it’s important to remember the words of the Mythbusters, “Don’t try this at home.” Getting caught up in a particle accelerator is one of the worst things that could happen to anyone; but that doesn’t make the physics any less interesting.

The particle accelerator in Brainwalker is based on the Large Hadron Collider, which is the world’s largest “atom smasher,” built at CERN near Geneva in Switzerland. Like the LHC, the particle accelerator in Brainwalker is seventeen miles long. It has to be that long because the proton beam moves so fast: 99.9999991% of the speed of light to be exact. At that speed you could bicycle to the Moon in less than two seconds.

Because it’s a collider, it actually uses two beams, one going in each direction. The LHC uses superconducting magnets to accelerate clumps of protons to near light speed, and then more magnets to cross the streams. The particles smash each other to bits, and the scientists look at the fragments. The harder they hit, the more energetic the fragments, and the better chance you have of finding something new.

Unfortunately for those of you wanting to copy Bernard, you can’t just open a hatch on the LHC and hop in. That’s a good thing, too. First, there’s no air inside the collider; it would stop the protons. Second, the superconducting magnets have to be kept very cold to work; about 456 degrees below zero. That’s much colder than even outer space. If you opened a hatch you’d get blasted by radiation and frozen by temperatures more than 325 degrees colder than the coldest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica.

So, opening the hatch is a no-go, but what about the wormholes?

Well, that’s a big maybe, which makes sense since nobody knows if wormholes actually exist.

What we do know about are black holes, and several theories say that a big enough particle accelerator could create tiny quantum black holes. Since some theories also say that a black hole might be one end of a wormhole, then maybe a big enough particle accelerator could create a wormhole. It would have to be more powerful than the LHC, but there’s nothing in the story that says the one where Bernard’s dad works isn’t that powerful.

Wormholes themselves are pretty neat. Imagine a piece of paper (that’s space-time) folded together so that the ends touch. A wormhole would let you jump directly from one end to the other so that you could skip going the length of the paper. Also, because wormholes fold space-time, not just space, a wormhole can even work as a time machine connecting the future or the past. One jump could take you anywhere, or even anywhen.

So while you can’t jump into a particle accelerator, the basic idea of a powerful one creating a wormhole is not that far-fetched. The catch is that you’re not likely to be as lucky as Bernard if you encounter one.

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