Implications of Fast Neutrinos

2
Sep 27, 2011
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In her Spotlight presentation Monday, September 26, Dr. Sutherlin referenced a discovery made by scientists in Italy that neutrinos (sub atomic particles that are found throughout the universe) fired at a receptor 500 miles away arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier than light would have.  Here is an excerpt of an article from Reuters News Service that explains the discovery (the full article is here):

A total of 15,000 beams of neutrinos — tiny particles that pervade the cosmos — were fired over a period of 3 years from CERN toward Gran Sasso 730 (500 miles) km away, where they were picked up by giant detectors.

Light would have covered the distance in around 2.4 thousandths of a second, but the neutrinos took 60 nanoseconds — or 60 billionths of a second — less than light beams would have taken.

“It is a tiny difference,” said Ereditato, who also works at Berne University in Switzerland, “but conceptually it is incredibly important. The finding is so startling that, for the moment, everybody should be very prudent.”

Ereditato declined to speculate on what it might mean if other physicists, who will be officially informed of the discovery at a meeting in CERN on Friday, found that OPERA’s measurements were correct.

“I just don’t want to think of the implications,” he told Reuters. “We are scientists and work with what we know.”

This last sentence is pretty amazing, since the implications of faster-than-light travel could be enormous:  undermining Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity, removing the constant speed of light (c) from various equations (such as e=mc2), reversing cause and effect, and (my favorite) time travel.

I respect the fact that Ereditato (ironically a cognate of erudite – look it up if that’s a new word) is more concerned with observable facts and theoretical propositions than with warp drives or time machines, but to dismiss the implications completely seems irresponsible and arrogant.

What do you think?

Should scientists concern themselves with implications of their findings as much as (or more than) the findings themselves?  Is doing so ethical?  Is not doing so irresponsible?  Can you be a critical thinker and NOT consider the implications?  Chime in…

2 Comments

  1. Sep 27, 2011
    3:48 pm

    by Jesse

    -Should scientists concern themselves with implications of their findings as much as (or more than) the findings themselves?
    I believe that they should be concerned with the implications just as much as the findings. When we, as humans, discover something new that proves or disproves our own beliefs, I think we should investigate and test the findings to learn more from them. If we stop exploring and digging into this information we can not imagine the possibilities humanity is missing out on. We will limit our knowledge if we stop experimenting and learning; the limitations of knowledge is something In my opinion that should always be pushed to expand.

    To the questions, ” is doing so ethical?” and, ” is not doing so irresponsible?” my answer to both is yes. It is right to explore new findings, if we do not then we are crippling ourselves. I also strongly believe that we are responsible for our own knowledge. We can choose to expand our knowings or we can limit them, but ultimately even what we are taught we still decide whether or not to believe the teachings to be fact or not. So we must continue adventuring into new discoveries, even if what we find disproves or makes us questions our previous beliefs. If we do not then we are choosing to be ignorant.

  2. Nov 2, 2012
    10:35 am

    I think that scientist should think about the implications of their findings very much so. If they just published everything they discovered they would flip the world on its side, and then we would go back and see that our panic was for nothing because the scientist made a mistake. When scientist make a ground breaking discovery such as something ,moving faster than the speed of light, they should realize that they need to make sure that this fact is 100 percent true before they even think about taking it to the public. So yes doing this is ethical because it keeps the public from having a break through or a panic happen and then to go back and find out that it is false. it is responsible of the scientist to think about the implications of their findings.

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