Noelle Swan

European Scientists Claim They Have Broken Einstein’s Theory; Harvard Physicist Says Think Again

In Uncategorized on October 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm

This article was first published by New England Post on October 24, 2011.

Italian and Swiss scientists recently observed particles moving faster than the speed of light, which is a phenomenon that violates Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

However, Harvard physics professor Gary Feldman is not yet ready to give up on Einstein.

It’s now up to Feldman to find out whether the fundamental law of physics—that nothing moves faster than the speed of light—is wrong.

The findings released by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have rocked the scientific community. Eugenie Reich, writer for the journal Nature, said that “readers’ appetite for this story has been insatiable.”

“The findings are likely wrong,” Feldman told a dozen members of the New England Science Writers Association last week in a classroom at Harvard University’s Jefferson Laboratory.

“They don’t believe it either,” he said of scientists who published the study online last month. “This is what they measured, they’ve got to tell the world about it, but they hope other people will do the measurements and see if they get the same result or not.”

Feldman works on one of two projects in the world capable of checking these measurements. Fermilab’s MINOS experiment is equipped to analyze a neutrino beam about 500 miles between laboratories in Illinois and Minnesota. This is almost the exact distance between CERN’s Swiss laboratory and the Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy, making it an ideal location to replicate the experiment. Japan has a third neutrino beam that is about half the length of the MINOS and CERN experiments.

MINOS collaborators at the University of North Carolina had tried to secure funding for similar experiments from the Department of Energy previously but were turned down, said Feldman. CERN’s findings violate the laws of relativity and nearly every theory for the past century hinges on Einstein’s assumptions. This claim that relativity has been discounted has reanimated interest in the MINOS Experiment and Feldman expects funding to follow.

Einstein’s theory of special relativity states that the speed of light is constant regardless of observer and inertial frame—think back to middle school math problems with balls rolling at two miles an hour down the aisle of a train that is moving at 60 miles per hour. This has been widely tested and universally accepted.

Feldman said that we see proofs of relativity constantly in our everyday lives. “If Einstein’s theory of relativity is inaccurate, our GPS systems would not work,” he said.

Feldman respects the integrity of the experimental methods used by CERN scientists and says that they did “a very good job.” All data was double checked with at least two different methods of measurement, the margin of error was small, and data analysis was blind. Still, he cannot accept the findings.

In lieu of evidence to discredit the experiment, Feldman turned to historical evidence that appears to refute the findings.

In 1987, a supernova exploded millions of miles away, collapsing in on itself, sending particles hurtling through space. Neutrinos arrived on Earth three hours before the light given off by the supernova. The difference in the speed of the neutrinos observed by Grand Sasso’s OPERA detector was greater than the speed of the supernova’s neutrinos. “If OPERA was correct, these neutrinos should have preceded the light by four years,” said Feldman.

Feldman explained that these neutrinos essentially had a head start. Because of their negligible mass, neutrinos can pass through matter more easily than protons carrying light. In the case of the supernova, he said, the neutrinos escaped from the center of the explosion faster and began their journey through space first.

Feldman pointed out that CERN scientists also had difficulty reconciling their data with the observations from the 1987 supernova. They mentioned it on the first page of their paper.

When questioned about where the CERN experiment could have gone wrong, Feldman pointed to technological limitations. He said that 10 billion neutrinos are produced in a few millionths of a second and there is no way to tell when in that period one given neutrino was produced. That may seem like an insignificant amount of time, but when you are talking about a particle no bigger than a millionth of the size of an electron, fractions of nanoseconds matter.

Further, Feldman explained that the experiment has several segments, each with its own technological limitations and margin of error. “This chain of timing is a long chain,” he said. “The most likely thing is that they made a mistake somewhere in that chain.”

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