Science experiments that either could have or might end the world in the near future. From being destroyed by artificially intelligent robots to accidently creating a black hole, we take a look at 10 science experiments that could have ended the world.
10. Genetically Engineered Superbugs
For years now science has had the ability to genetically engineer diseases to make them even more deadly than they once were. Scientists can now synthesize and genetically modify a range of nasty diseases like anthrax and mousepox making them even deadlier than the original strains. In 2005, scientists successfully re-created a strain of the influenza virus which was estimated to have killed between 20-40 million people in 1918. The complete genetic sequence of this disease has been mapped and is now available online for anybody to download.
In the 1970’s a bacteria was genetically engineered to digest petroleum. It was hoped that the bacteria could be used to clean up oil spills. At the time it was feared that it may spread out of control out-competing other bacteria for survival.
While not a direct genetic modification, the creation and use of pesticides on food crops has inadvertently caused many plant-based diseases to develop into super bugs. Forced to adapt through the process of natural selection, these new resistant strains of disease are even more destructive than their predecessors leading some to speculate that it could be a matter of time before we create a superbug so destructive, it could wipeout the world’s food sources.
9. Self Replicating Technology
Self replicating technology is any technology that has the ability to reproduce or construct another identical or more advanced version of itself. For example, a single robot is built by humans with the ability to replicate itself using material it gathers and modifies. The mathematician John von Neumann first proposed the idea of a self replicating machine that could travel through space, gathering resources to build another exact machine. The two craft would then self-replicate, creating four, and so on. The large fleet of craft could travel in different directions throughout the universe and relay data back to Earth.
But what if this technology could not be stopped from reproducing itself? In his 1986 book about nanotechnology Eric Drexler elaborated on a concept he called ‘grey goo’. He suggests that tiny, self-replicating robots known as nanobots could replicate exponentially, harvesting and utilizing every useful mineral on the planet. The result would be a grey goo-like sea of nanobots covering the entire world.
8. Kola Superdeep Borehole
In 1970 Russian scientists began drilling a super-deep borehole on the Kola Peninsula in Northwest Russia. The project was conceived to study the structure and chemical composition of the Earth’s deep core. At its deepest, the hole was a staggering 12 262 metres (40 230 feet) deep and is still the deepest borehole in the world today. It was unclear what drilling this deep into the Earth’s core would do with some speculating that it may have caused catastrophic earthquakes or even widespread volcanic eruptions.
7. The Search For Aliens
The SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) Institute is a non-profit organisation located in Mountain View, California. Using optical and radio telescope systems, their primary mission is to search for extraterrestrial lifeforms with the intelligence and ability to communicate. Some speculate that contacting an advanced alien race could lead to interplanetary war, a situation that humans might be ill-equipped to deal with considering that an alien race may be far more technologically advanced than us.
In 1974, scientists broadcast an interstellar radio message that included information about us humans and the planet we live on. The message includes information about the makeup of human DNA, a graphic of a human, the population of Earth and a map of how to find us. While it will take 25,000 years to hit its intended destination, the globular star cluster M13, many believe that sending this message into space was a bad idea. It essentially tells an aggressive alien race everything they need to know to successfully wipe out all life on Earth.
6. The Large Hadron Collider
Located beneath the France-Switzerland border near Geneva, Switzerland, lies the world’s most powerful particle collider, the Large Hadron Collider. Taking 10 years to build, the facility is the culmination of the work of more than 10 000 scientists and engineers.
The purpose of the collider is to accelerate particles to very high speeds and smash them into each other. Data is then collected and the results are analysed. Physicists use the collider to test predictions and theories of particle physics.
Initially, the experiments sparked fears that the particle collisions could produce microscopic black holes that may damage the Earth or even swallow it up. Another concern was that the experiments may produce something known as a strangelet. A strangelet is a hypothetical particle that some have theorized, if large enough, could have the potential to turn ordinary matter into strange matter. Theoretically the strangelet would catalyze one initial nucleus of regular matter, starting a chain reaction that would turn the Earth into a large, hot lump of strange matter, obliterating all life in the process.
5. Starfish Prime
In 1962 the US conducted an operation named Starfish Prime in which they fired a nuclear warhead into outer space from Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean. The blast caused an electromagnetic pulse far greater than expected. It was so large the instrumentation readings were off the scale making it difficult to accurately measure any data.
1445 kilometers (898 miles) away in Hawaii the blast caused widespread damage, knocking out about 300 lights, setting off burglar alarms and shutting down telephone communication. In the months following the test, the radiation belts left from the explosion disabled one third of all low Earth orbiting satellites.
Large pieces of the missile crashed back down on Johnston Island and plutonium contamination was found on nearby Sand Island.
The fact that the electromagnetic pulse generated by the blast was much greater than scientists expected tends to indicate they were not entirely sure what the explosion might do but they went ahead and did it anyway. Luckily the Earth’s magnetic field recovered and was still able to protect us from devastating solar winds and harmful cosmic rays.
4. Artificial Intelligence
We already have robots that can drive cars and artificial assistants on our mobile phones but is it feasible that humans will one day create artificial intelligence that is smarter than the human mind? Google’s Deepmind AI technology can already beat humans at many games and has shown some rather unnerving similarities to human thought. A recent test raised some disturbing questions. The test involved two games – the first, two teams armed with lasers had to harvest apples and the second, a game where the two teams hunted down a single prey. Deepmind showed that it was willing to behave peacefully if the resources were plentiful but if the resources were scarce, it was more likely to attack the other team with the laser. When hunting down the prey the AI quickly learnt that teamwork was the best way to get the food.
The results from these test show that much like humans, Deepmind understands the benefits of betrayal to get what it needs. Is this the first step in creating an all destroying Skynet style supercomputer?
3. Weaponising Disease
In 1989, director of the Leningrad Institute of Ultrapure Biological Preparations Vladimir Pasechnik, defected to England. Pasechnik claimed that during the mid 1980’s the Soviets were experimenting on ways to weaponize microbial pathogens and to increase their virulence. One of the diseases that the institute was bioengineering was the plague. Also known as the Black Death, the plague was responsible for killing an estimated 75 to 200 million people throughout Europe and Asia between 1346 and 1353. According to Pasechnik the Soviets were developing a version that was resistant to heat and cold as well as many antibiotics. The new strain was then placed in warheads that could be fired on a missile.
Nobody knows whether or not the Soviet Union were actually planning to use any of these biological weapons offensively but if they had this even deadlier new plague may have had the potential to wipe out all human life on Earth.
2. The Trinity Nuclear Test
When the US joined World War II on December 7th, 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour by the Japanese, the race to develop the world’s first nuclear weapon was already underway. Lead by the US, the Manhattan Project was a development and research undertaking that produced the world’s first nuclear bomb. Trinity was the codename given to the first detonation of a nuclear weapon which took place in the Jornada del Muerto desert in New Mexico on July 16th, 1945. The blast was larger than expected with an energy equivalent to around 20 kilotons of TNT. It was so large, it melted the sand into a radioactive, light green glass. The mushroom cloud reached a staggering 12.1 kilometers (7.5 miles) in height and the shockwave was felt more than 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.
The urgency to be the first country in the world to develop nuclear weapons was obvious with Germany and Japan also vying for world power. In the haste to win the race, several prominent scientists had concerns about what might actually happen if they were to set off a nuclear device. The Nobel Prize winning physicist Enrico Fermi believed that the blast may be catastrophic, setting fire to the Earth’s atmosphere and creating huge fires all around the world. The test went ahead despite his dire predictions and luckily he was wrong.
On August 6th, 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, 3 days later, Nagasaki, both less than one month after the first test in New Mexico.
1. The Zeno Effect
Since the 1990’s a hypothesis has suggested that a form of energy known as dark energy may be accelerating the expansion of the universe. This has lead to the idea that there could be a point where the universe stops decaying more rapidly and begins to slow down, meaning the universe would exist forever.
This has lead to an amazing and mind-melting theory. In quantum physics, the Zeno effect is a bizarre yet proven situation where an unstable particle, if continuously observed, will never decay. New research has suggested that scientific measurement of the death of several stars in 1998 which detected dark energy may have actually reset the universe’s decay clock back to zero. How? By reverting the quantum system back to its original state – one of fast decay. This amazingly difficult to grasp concept basically suggests that scientists could have greatly reduced the life of the universe simply by observing it.
Well that was 10 science experiments that could have ended the world. Have you ever conducted an experiment in your basement that you thought might destroy all life as we know it? Let us know!