Neutrinos Pass The Speed Limit?

It’s not every day that the first item on the BBC World Service news involves high energy physics. I was idly listening last night and couldn’t quite believe my ears! They even had Einstein speaking in English on the ‘scientific approach’ in the soundbyte (although it wasn’t really that helpful).

The topic was the surprising result of an experiment at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) which suggests that particles known as neutrinos can travel faster than light.

If verified, this would violate Einstein’s special theory of relativity, which together with quantum theory, is one of the foundations of modern physics.

The implications would be paradigm changing. Alternatively, and far less excitingly, it may instead be a subtle error somewhere in the (extremely complex) experiment. Either way, it’s good that these ‘fundamental issues’ get wide publicity and, as a by-product, raise awareness of the astounding technical capability developed in experimental high-energy physics (see video above).

The press release from CERN, where the experiment (named OPERA) took place, is here:

The OPERA measurement is at odds with well-established laws of nature, though science frequently progresses by overthrowing the established paradigms. For this reason, many searches have been made for deviations from Einstein’s theory of relativity, so far not finding any such evidence. The strong constraints arising from these observations makes an interpretation of the OPERA measurement in terms of modification of Einstein’s theory unlikely, and give further strong reason to seek new independent measurements.

Some background on the neutrino is given in the video above as well as here. However, until the dust has settled…

Credits: video here and comic here.


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