The Whole Picture

The ScienceBy Ktr2 

Too early to take a stand.

For last few days, Italian (actually born near Geneva) neutrino was not only a buzz among physics enthusiasts but also a top contender in google trends. Word neutrino was among top twenty googled(US) word on September 23rd. This might not be reliable if we are looking for the number of people who knew about neutrinos but at least it tells many people wanted to know about it or let’s say followed the big news. It seems obvious because it is not anymore just ‘neutrino’, it has been amalgamated with some really famous words and phrases like Einstein, relativity, death of physics etc. etc. And at the same time we have a widespread social network and information media to bounce it around. It is really a positive thing but also equally dangerous in spreading misconception among people. Many people who have very little access to the internet have already accepted that “Einstein has been proven wrong.” Some of my friends back home, Nepal, who are studying physics are already in a shock to see the failure of the special theory of relativity. And unfortunately I have not been able to correct them yet. It is the result of false presentation and weak interpretation of information. We are lingering simultaneously in an information age and also in a misinformation age like the Schrödinger‘s cat lingering in between life and death until the box is open.

So what is the information?

Yes, the OPERA experiment in Italy has recently announced a bizarre result about the speed of neutrino. They produced a beam of muon-neutrinos from CERN and directed it to the underground Gran Sasso National Laboratory (LNGS), 732 km away where the OPERA detector detected the arrival of neutrino. The time difference between neutrino production at CERN and detection at OPERA was measured with high precision using GPS-synchronized clocks and the distance (baseline) the neutrino travelled before detection was measure using high precision geodesy. As a result they found the velocity of neutrino to be slightly greater than the velocity of light. According to Science magazine:

Over 3 years, OPERA researchers timed the roughly 16,000 neutrinos that started at CERN and registered a hit in the detector. They found that, on average, the neutrinos made the 730-kilometer, 2.43-millisecond trip roughly 60 nanoseconds faster than expected if they were traveling at light speed.

This experiment challenges well-established, Special theory of relativity. Special relativity tells us that the velocity of light in vacuum is the speed limit; no any particle can be accelerated to that speed. It is not the first time STR has been challenged. There have been several attempts before to overthrow the velocity of light limit (I have enlisted some technical papers related to previous attempts under useful links below). Scientists at OPERA have claimed that this experiment is highly accurate than the previous studies. They also told that they have tried several ways to find out the flaws in their experiment and statistical analysis but failed to find anything that would change their results greatly enough that neutrino would not surpass the speed limit. As BBC writes:

“We tried to find all possible explanations for this,” the report’s author Antonio Ereditato of the OPERA collaboration told BBC News on Thursday evening.

“We wanted to find a mistake – trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects – and we didn’t.

“When you don’t find anything, then you say ‘well, now I’m forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this’.”

Since this experiment challenges a strongly established theory, it is prone to excessive skepticism and extremely difficult hurdles. If it will be successful in answering the skeptics and be able to get reproduced somewhere else then it would be a greatest physics discovery in past century. It will change the structure on which all our relativistic assumption are based. Our understanding of the universe should be modified.


It is just the beginning. Several scientists from all over should examine the experiment in detail and should try to figure out the loose ends because it is very likely that the experiment has some known/unknown problems. And attempts should also be made to replicate the experiment. If the OPERA experiment passes all these tests then only we will be able to say that, “Yay! Speed of light is not the limit.” Or “Oh well, Einstein was wrong.” It will be a great discovery no matter if it fails or succeeds. If it succeeds, we would know that our understanding about the universe had flaw and we would move more close towards finding the gears of the cosmos. And on the other hand if it fails, it would still be a validity for the special theory of relativity. But , for now it’s too early to take a stand.

Useful Links:

Useful Blogs:

Surely you’re wonderful Mr. Feynman!

Yesterday I was trying to understand Aspect’s experiment after reading the third chapter of Brian Green’s The fabric of the cosmos. I Googled; I knew I would get some help like my high school teacher said, “…even when your keys are lost”. There was a well known name hanging between some never heard highly intricate phenomena of quantum mechanics in the search result. It was not Einstein or Bohr or Heisenberg, actually it was ‘Feynman’ which dragged me in. I was in high school when I first came to know this name. I knew nothing about his contribution; I knew he was a big figure in quantum mechanics, thats all!

 Back then I bought a book( Surely You Are Joking Mr. Feynman!) about him.  It was not because I was impressed by how much I had known about him but because somebody who was holding  Feynman’s lecture series recommended me saying, “Oh! that’s really amazing book, if you are interested in physics then go forward!.” I bought that book because I was “interested in physics” and I think that was a valid reason then. The book was written in a very simple language; except in a  few occasions I did not even seek help from dictionary. It was perfect story telling. I felt like watching a really impressive and equally humorous biography of some genius. Mr. Feynman was really something different, something like I always wanted to be. The book explained his curious childhood and the accomplishments that followed . I remember, I was totally engulfed in the book- it took just two shots for a lazy reader like me. Later, I came to know that actually the book was written by Mr. Feynman’s colleagues(?) referring  to the recorded conversations with him. I think that was the reason why I felt (might be) like someone ( Dr. Feynman himself) was explaining everything to me.  The book never touched any core physics or mathematics concepts except naming them once in a while. And after reading the book I was in a position to change the recommender’s statement to – ,”…If you are interested in adventure, then go forward!” I think Mr. Feynman  is an inspiration for everybody not only the people who “like physics”.

Sorry, I wander around pulling my memories. Lets come to the point. The website I entered into was titled Cosmolearning and contained lectures from variety of subjects. The specific lecture I was pulled into was, “Richard Feynman Messenger Lectures: The Character of Physical Law”. It is a series of lectures given by himself, Dr. Feynman at Cornell University. It has eighteen 9 minutes parts and it’s worth watching. If you enjoy one of the lecture then you could not stop watching all of them ( thats what I did). The way he entertains his audience clearly explains Dr. Richard P. Feynman was not only a theoretical physicists but also an wonderful lecturer.

Here are the lectures: