Monday, 26 September 2011

Queen's in no rush to axe light speed theory

PHYSICS students about to begin their degrees at Queen's University today could be the last to be taught that E=MC2.


Published in the News Letter on 26/09/11.

CERN, home of the large Hadron collider, have baffled physicists around the world with claims they may have beaten the most fundamental law of physics, the speed of light.

Albert Einstein's theory on special relativity - which states the speed of light can never be exceeded - is seen as the cornerstone of modern physics and to date has never been successfully challenged.

However with the OPERA experiment, CERN believe they have done just that. The experiment saw sub-atomic particles known as neutrinos sent 454 miles from CERN to the Grand Sasso laboratory in Italy.

A new 'world record' seemed to be set with the particles arriving just 60 billionths of a second early.

OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Erediato, said he was cautiously excited by the results.
“This result comes as a complete surprise,” he said.

“After many months of studies and cross checks we have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement. While OPERA researchers will continue their studies, we are also looking forward to independent
measurements to fully assess the nature of this observation.”

In an unusual move, CERN have openly published their findings for scrutiny before they make an official claim.

Professor Bill Graham from Queen's University

QUB physics professor Bill Graham said that although the findings had generated excitement in the halls of his department, he wouldn't be telling his students to throw away their textbooks any time soon.
"Our community is definitley excited about it but the general view is that there is probably a long way to go. The first aspect is checking the experiment has been done correctly as it's so complex. Your talking 60 billionths of a second so it's a very difficult experiment."

He continued: "Most of us believe this will be explained away, there's so much evidence (Einstein) is correct. This is one experiment so an alternative explanation might be found,if not physics will have a field day, it could change the way we may be looking at the world."

Although remaining sceptical, Prof Graham said CERN deserved high praise for the work."They're behaving very professionally, they have concerns they've missed something and are allowing the whole community to look at it.

They're trying to put a mark down in history as the first people to discover this. They'll get a lot of credit if they're right, but also if it's disproven for the way they've went about it."

Ahead of a public seminar hosted yesterday afternoon by CERN, Professor Erediato reflected on what the results could mean.“The potential impact on science is too large to draw immediate conclusions or attempt physics interpretations," he said. "Although my first reaction is that the neutrino is still surprising us with its mysteries.”

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