Expert Suggestion: CERN’s “Einstein was Wrong” Neutrino Experiment Results

Released: 9/26/2011 3:20 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: Johns Hopkins University
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TO: Reporters, editors, producers
FROM: Lisa De Nike | 443-845-3148 |
RE: CERN’s “Einstein was wrong” neutrino experiment results

Reporters working on stories about the recent results at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) -- where researchers reported observing neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light (thereby contradicting Einstein’s famous “theory of relativity”) -- may want to consider speaking with Barry Blumenfeld, an experimental physicist at The Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

A particle physicist who teaches a course on subatomic particles (including the involved neutrino), Blumenfeld can discuss why the Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus (OPERA)’s results were “most likely wrong,” but why it would be “very exciting, indeed,” if they turned out to be right.

“I would bet that those results are in error, but if they do happen to be correct, well, it would be huge; it would turn modern physics on its ear,” said Blumenfeld, who received his Ph.D. in 1974 from Columbia University for his work at the world’s first proton-proton collider near Geneva, Switzerland and is currently involved with experiments at the Collider Detector at Fermilab (CDF) and the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment (CMS) at CERN.

According to Blumenfeld, the theory of relativity (which states that nothing can move faster than the speed of light) is one of 20th century physics’ foundational – and most important – ideas. He calls it “the universal speed limit.”

“Most physicists accept that nothing can move faster than the speed of light, but in this case, the particles apparently did seem to do that. The neutrinos reached their destination about 60 nanoseconds before they were expected,” he said, referring to OPERA’s experiment, in which a team shot neutrinos out of a particle accelerator near Geneva and measured how long it took them to travel to a neutrino detector about 450 miles away in Italy. (Neutrinos are subatomic, electrically neutral particles with almost zero mass that can whip through other matter as if it isn’t even there; a nanosecond is one billionth of a second.)

If the experiment is repeated with the same results, “one exotic possibility is that it could indicate the existence of extra dimensions,” he said.

“Chances are some error in the calculations or the instrumentation caused this result, but what if it is right?” Blumenfeld said. “It could be evidence of extra dimensions that we don’t know about. Perhaps the stuff that makes us up keeps us stuck in our three dimensional world but there is something about the neutrinos that allowed them to take a detour. The idea of a universal speed limit is based on the space we know – and not what we don’t know about.”