The World’s Scariest Science: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Bold innovation or terrible idea? Your guide to the experiments that only sound scary—and the lab work you truly should lose sleep over
Suitcase Nukes
Scientists are trying to develop pure-fusion reactions—bursts that don't require uranium or plutonium to ignite—for clean energy. But they could also usher in so-called low-yield nuclear weapons that emit very little radiation and could be both small and difficult to detect. WHY, GOD, WHY? The civilian rationale is that pure-fusion nuclear power could supplement, if not replace, fossil fuels and conventional reactors. And the era of widespread nuclear weapons development is largely over. A 2008 report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and the Center for Strategic and International Studies recommended extending the life of old nukes with upgraded warheads and onboard microsensors for quality control (rather than building anything new). But if scientists happen upon pure fusion, who knows what they might do with it? FEAR FACTOR Nuclear weapons are scary. The U.S. has already created small "bunker-buster" nukes that can penetrate underground targets. But weaponized pure fusion would require miniaturizing lasers or other trigger technologies that currently involve building-sized equipment. Of course, pure fusion may also be impossible. According to several reports, including declassified information from the Department of Energy, weapons scientists have tried and failed to pull it off since the 1950s, and funding for the research was banned in 1993. But Jeremy Tamsett, editor of the Journal of Strategic Security, says the 2004 Defense Authorization Act repealed the restrictions. And this year, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will attempt to create pure-fusion reactions with lasers at its National Ignition Facility. WORRY METER Medium Jon Proctor

In labs around the world, scientists are working to expand our understanding of the weird, the unexpected, and the potentially dangerous. Their aim is true, yet, many of these boundary-pushing projects carry serious potential for things to go wrong. Horribly wrong.

Click here to see the five scariest experiments currently underway

Mars Attacks
Bugs of War
Drug Thy Enemy
Smile Police