Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tim's Question for Keith Raffel

A piece of the action in Smasher takes place at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Is that anything like the particle accelerator at CERN, in Switzerland, where they are making anti-matter? Are there any black holes in your novel? Isn't it bad enough that those of us living in California have to worry about earthquakes and wildfires, not to mention state bankruptcy, without you putting the whole world at risk?

Tim, why is it always left to me to dispel your innocent illusions? I still remember the tears when I told you why you couldn’t apply to Hogwarts for grad school. Well, here goes again. Angels and Demons is a work of fiction. Despite what Dan Brown wrote, anti-matter and black holes are not about to swallow the world. You can go back to worrying about earthquakes and wildfires.

Still, in writing Smasher, I did become a real fan of particle physics. Growing up in Palo Alto, I paid attention to the first stirrings of what became Silicon Valley. My dad was an engineer working on the first videotape recorders. But neither I, nor anyone I knew, paid much attention to what was happening over at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). While Bob Noyce was inventing the microprocessor at Intel, a team of physicists at Stanford was discovering what the universe was made of.

Two of my kids have taken physics classes at Palo Alto High which is across the street from Stanford. But I’ve looked over their physics syllabus – it could have been taught by Isaac Newton. Doesn’t anyone care about what we and everyone else is made of? Congress decided no when it killed plans for the world’s largest atom smasher. Now, as you say, the center of physics has moved to Switzerland. Anti-matter and black holes can make for popular crime fiction. Dan Brown did prove that in Angels and Demons. (Maybe some of that pixie dust will rub off on Smasher?) Most of the universe is dark matter and we don’t know what that is. Some scientists think we live in an eleven-dimensional universe. (From what I’ve read, I think there are at least five.) At CERN people are trying to find out.

Here’s the great thing about particle physics for us thriller writers: There’s plenty of ambition, prizes and money at stake, just as in high tech. Even better, there are electron beams traveling at over 99% of the speed of light, sort of Star Wars-style ray guns. So I wanted to bring together the parallel universes of high tech and high energy physics in one story. And that’s why I wrote Smasher.
Till tomorrow then,
As counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Keith Raffel held a top secret clearance to watch over CIA activities. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, he founded UpShot Corporation, the award-winning Internet software company. These days he stays busy writing his mysteries and thrillers in his hometown of Palo Alto, California. His latest novel, Smasher, is out this month. Check out his website and book trailer at


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Wait, if Tim can't go to Hogwarts for grad school...does that mean I can't either? Dark matters indeed, Keith.

And now you're calling Dan Brown a liar too? You pick big fights, Palo Alto boy.

Thanks for another illuminating post (except for that part about Hogwarts which I didn't want to know).

Shane Gericke said...

Keith, I live just a few miles from Fermilab, which smashes itty-bitty atoms into ittier-bittier ones. My question: will sitting in a lawn chair over the underground rings get rid of my gray hair? Will I be able to play piano as my mother once dreamed? Will it give me a bigger, uh, well, you know. If not, what good is particle physics, anyway?

Keith Raffel said...

Rebecca, when you live in Paradise, it's tough to hear the truth about the rest of the world. Shane, I will convey my comment in person next month in Irvine.