Adventures in Ethics and Science

This is cool, but is it safe?

Robert Krulwich made my ride home today way more interesting than it had a right to be.

If you haven’t heard it already, check out his piece on how to build your own universe. It includes implausible (but cute) sound effects for watermelons being squeezed into tiny little black holes.

The basic idea behind the DIY universe is to start small (with a tiny little black hole) and then harness a “repulsive force” to blow it up like a big inflatable raft (only moreso). Astrophysics folks are tempted by the non-zero probability that this could actually be done, not to mention the fact that getting it to work would be undeniably cool.

True to form, I’m worrying about the details of doing this safely. What special precautions does one need to take with a tiny little black hole? (Is it safe to keep it in a fume hood, say?) And what kind of facilities ought one to have in place before pulling the ripcord and expanding your universe?

I don’t want to be a buzzkill here — I’m sure it would be more exciting to throw together a universe before your Institutional Review Board has any idea that you’re even thinking about it — but I’d hate for people to get hurt in the process (at least unnecessarily).


  1. #1 God
    November 27, 2006

    Yeah, I tried that when I was younger. First it seemed the experiment went well, Then it seemed the experiment went amazingly well – the universe grew to the staggering size of ~13 billion light-years across. But then intelligent lifeforms evolved in it, and nearly all of them are miserable wretches living out wretched lives. (I swear I’d do something, if I could, but I can’t.)

  2. #2 hypatia cade
    November 27, 2006

    So I spent the whole interview waiting for the interviewer to ask something like… and how do we know that expanding the blackhole won’t take out earth as it expands right through our planet’s middle. He never asked. I wonder if it’s safe or not too… But since no human subjects are involved do they have to ask the IRB? (Is there any oversight agency involved?)

  3. #3 Kurt
    November 28, 2006

    There is an organization, Lifeboat Foundation, dedicated to trying to prevent the inadvertent destruction of the Earth by technology. Man-made black holes are one of the (many) dangers they have been concerned about. They also advocate colonizing space so that humanity can survive the inevitable destruction (a view that Stephen Hawking seems to share).

  4. #4 iGollum
    November 28, 2006

    I read a sci-fi story on that very subject a few years ago, in which a team of physicists creating a mini-universe (by accident) in a particle accelerator… can’t remember the exact reference though. Might have been Greg Bear; I’ll have to check. As I recall it wasn’t too safe and there was some rather disquieting expansion going on.

  5. #5 David Harmon
    November 28, 2006

    Greg Bear’s novel was Cosm, wherein the universes appeared in our world as small spheres which eventually blew up — rather destructively, but not at the Earth-wrecking scale. The idea has been played with in a number of places.

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