I'm writing a science fiction novel where a linear accelerator buried underground has to explode. Above the linear accelerator is an enormous server room which ideally would be heavily damaged. Atop that rests the main scientific compound which ideally should have minimal damage. The protagonists are trying to destroy the accelerator and its data without loss of life.

I've been doing some research and figured intentionally scattering the beam of protons inside the accelerator could strike the superconducting magnets in the accelerator. If enough magnets were hit, it would seem to cause a relatively small explosion. I was thinking of flooding the accelerator chamber with a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen to further increase the explosive output. If this enormous accelerator chamber was flooded with explosive gas, could it in theory destroy the chamber and "Floor" above without doing much more damage than that?

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    $\begingroup$ Have you looked at the damage done by relatively small volumes after a natural gas (methane) leak causes an explosion? We had such an explosion near where I live two nights ago -- completely destroyed a KFC and damaged both businesses on either side (despite significant air spaces). $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 0:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, Zeiss. If a methane leak can do that much damage it seems reasonable to me that a massive underground chamber filled with hydrogen would do a large amount of damage. I found this article seems to suggest that once the fire gets going, hydrogen and methane should be roughly equally powerful. I'll have my main characters flood the chamber with an optimum hydrogen:oxygen ratio. cafr1.com/Hydrogen_vs_Propane.pdf $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ If I understand Zeiss Ikon right, you may need to have a Kentucky Fried Chicken built into the server room. Or Popeyes would probably be ok. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ "a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen" That would form water explosively on its own, and if there is enough to cause any damage you will probably break the accelerator and server room. $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2019 at 6:40

1 Answer 1


Frame challenge 1: if you wish to destroy the data with explosions, your setting has to be around 1960's or ealier. Around the 1970's US research facilities started using ARPANET to send data to remote servers. In the 1980's the internet as we know was in use and scientific data was backed up in multiple universities around the US and UK, where it was processed.

Frame challenge 2: particle accelerator beams aren't as destructive as you might be thinking. This guy took a proton beam headshot and survived with considerably minor damage. The LHC strongest beam is ~500x more powerful than the one that hit Anatoli, so it can probably kill with a hit, but still isn't powerful enough to cause the damage you want.

If you wish to destroy the accelerator, you have to cause it to collapse. Any localized damage from an explosion can be fixed by a government with a team of top notch engineers and spare tax money - which are both requirements to build a particle accelerator anyway. And if you want to cause a complex like, say, the LHC (which is large enough to span multiple small countries) to cave in, you are going to need nukes. You won't do it without a lot of casualties.

If you wish to destroy the data, publish some obviously fake results in cringe journals as if coming from the particle accelerator reseaechers; Then get mainstream media to have a day over it! That will discredit the actual data, the scientists and the institution running the accelerator - possibly getting everyone defunded. This almost happened once, when some guys published a paper about having found some neutrinos moving faster than light after analyzing some collisions. Back then there were some accusations of data faking - thankfully nowadays we know that was faulty equipment causing bad measures. People would lose their careers and a lot of science would be lost if someone had indeed faked data for nefarious reasons.


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