News - February 9, 2012

Science Café: Measurement error or revolution?

Arno van 't Hoog

CERN researcher gives his views on neutrinos that ‘travel faster than light'.

Sixty nanoseconds. That is the reason for the talk particle physicist Prof. Frank Linde will be giving in the next Wageningen Science Café. That tiny difference in time made physics into front page news last year. Researchers at CERN shot neutrinos from Switzerland to Italy and these subatomic particles appeared to have travelled faster than the speed of light. If that result can be replicated, we can dump our physics theories in the wastepaper bin. In principle it would even make time travel possible.
Linde is the director of the National Institute for Subatomic Physics (Nikhef). He was involved for some time in the experiment that resulted in the neutrinos that travel faster than light. He is currently one of the people working on the search for the Higgs particle with CERN's ATLAS detector. Linde will be talking about the research into superfast neutrinos and particle physics, and he will discuss the results and their implications with the audience.
99.9 percent sceptical
The researcher gives dozens of talks for the general public every year, providing an insight into an invisible world in a light-hearted, accessible manner. ‘I will explain in particular what my colleagues and I need to see before we really accept the need for a complete overhaul of particle physics.' Linde says a lot more evidence is required. ‘99.9 percent of elementary particle physicists are and remain incredibly sceptical about this measurement.'
Linde says it is more likely to be a measurement of something else than an as yet unknown physical phenomenon. ‘I am putting my money on a measurement error. But in my discipline we say ‘measurement is knowledge' until we can disprove it. If neutrinos really do travel faster than light then we're back to square one. In fact, it means we no longer have a valid theory to explain many great, accurate experiments in the past. So that would be a revolution. In a word: fantastic.'
23 February, 8 p.m., Café Loburg. With live music by Anne and Aljosha.
Wageningen Science Café is an initiative of Resource and others.