Never let it be said that CERN’s Large Hadron Collider doesn’t inspire Hollywood! First there was the film adaptation of Angels and Demons, involving a fictional antimatter bomb and — this being Dan Brown’s conspiracy-riddled universe — evil forces at work in the Vatican.
Not having seen the film, I can’t speak to the specific science likely to be presented — although the waitress with the particle physics fetish has a set of awesome tattoos showcasing the tracks subatomic particles make in, say, your typical cloud chamber.
But the premise seems to be that the “gazillionaire visionary” played by Sam Elliott has bought up the deserted site for the abandoned Superconducting Super Collider with the intent of recreating the Big Bang. As he says so sonorously in the film: “God is the Wizard of Oz. He is the man behind the curtain and I’m going to kick back that curtain.”
That’s quite an ambitious goal. The laws of physics inexplicably break down at the universe’s moment of birth, much as they do at a black hole’s singularity. Technically, our universe arose out of nothing. We owe our existence to a random fluctuation in the quantum vacuum.
At the subatomic scale — the quantum world — space is not the smooth, flat geometric entity that Einstein envisioned when he devised relativity. It is frothing with virtual pairs of particles and antiparticles that pop into existence for the briefest of moments before annihilating.
Back in the 1970s, a physicist named Edward Tyron proposed that the universe is just a particularly long-lived vacuum fluctuation: “The Universe is simply one of those things which happens from time to time.”
Well, okay then. Enter Alan Guth and his theory of inflation. Initially, our universe was just a tiny bubble floating in a vast empty sea of space-time. But in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of its life, something caused the universe to expand rapidly in a very short period of time.
Scientists know this cosmic growth spurt occurred because they have measured minute temperature fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation — the remnant of all those particle/antiparticle collisions — that serve as a relic of inflation.
Is this the correct picture of the Big Bang and our early universe? We don’t yet know for sure, hence the ongoing experiments at facilities like the LHC. Of course, physicists at the LHC are trying to recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, not the Big Bang itself. But who’s quibbling?
Maybe what physics needs is a gazillionare visionary, a rogue physicist, a fistful of diamonds, and a whole lotta chutzpah to transform the remnants of the SSC into a mind-boggling scientific breakthrough. If nothing else, it makes for killer entertainment.