The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, firing proton beams at nearly the speed of light around an underground ring 17 miles around, at a maximum energy level of 7 tera-electronvolts.
The accelerator’s experiments are designed to smash the proton beams together to simulate the conditions of the early universe, just after the “Big Bang,” the seminal expansion event that scientists believe birthed all matter.
So what would happen if you stuck your hand in the way of the beams?
That’s the question that was asked by viewers of Sixty Symbols, an online science video series made by video journalist Brady Haran for the University of Nottingham in the UK.
Back in September 2010, Sixty Symbols previously interviewed several scientists about what they thought would happen to a person’s hand placed in the path of a full power beam from the LHC, to hilarious and ambiguous results.
But now, Haran and company posed the question to staffers working at the Large Hadron Collider itself (it’s located near Geneva, Switzerland). Sufficed to say, the answers this time are more decisive.
“Your whole body would be irradiated, you’d die pretty quickly,” said David Barney, a scientist working on the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider, one of six experiments running at the beam.
“I was not surprised,” videographer Haran told TPM via email, about the answers. “I think it makes sense that putting your hand in front of a very powerful beam of protons would be unwise. But it is nice to hear some explanation and fun to see them react to a question they didn’t necessarily expect.”
The full answers from Barney and his colleagues are darkly hilarious and worth watching in full in the video below:
Haran further told TPM that the question was just one of many asked during a visit in February for a new video series on the Large Hadron Collider during its winter maintenance shutdown period. Sixty Symbols received unprecedented access to the facility.
The responses to the “hand” question are conducive with earlier statistics released by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the agency in charge of the accelerator, which revealed that at full power, the beams could burn a hole through over 6 feet of solid copper.
Still, as the scientists at the LHC told Haran and Sixty Symbols, the discussion is purely hypothetical, given that the beam is held in place by strong electromagnetic fields and there are various safety features that would stop the beam before anyone could get near enough to try. Don’t say we didn’t warn you, though.