Fermilab Double-Checking CERN’s (and their own) Math

September 27, 2011 1 comment
Detector used in the MINOS experiment at Fermilab.

Of course the big news of the past week is the OPERA experiment’s measurement of neutrino’s travelling faster than light.

The paper is up on arXiv. I’ve gone through it and nothing jumps out as to what they could have possibly done wrong. Chad Orzel on his blog Uncertain Principles has written a really nice summary of the paper and what the group actually did.

(Aside: I just read How to Teach Physics To Your Dog by Orzel, and I would definitely recommend it to a reader with a budding interest in quantum mechanics.)

Now it looks like the US based Fermilab is going to go over some old data to see if they can support (or contradict) the results of the OPERA experiment.

It was back in 2007 that Fermilab announced the results of their MINOS (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search) experiment. They also found neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light, however they had a much larger margin of error than the OPERA experiment, so they did not receive much attention.

Now, they are going to go back over their old data, as well as add some new data, to see what they find.

“The MINOS experiment has plans to update their original 2007 measurement with a number of improvements, including 10x more data,” wrote MINOS spokesperson Jenny Thomas, a professor of particle physics at University College London in an email to TPM’s Idea Lab.

“We should have a result in 4-6 months as the data is already taken. We just have to measure some of our delays more carefully,” she added. [TPM]

So in 6 months (I know, science is slow!) we will hopefully add another chapter to this fascinating story.

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Faster Than Light Particles! So, Warp Speed Ahead, Right???

September 22, 2011 3 comments

The OPERA detector at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy

I’ll have more to say about this story once I see the work on arXiv, but I feel I should comment now because this story is exploding.

The interwebs and blogospheres are abuzz with the news that researchers at CERN have measured the velocity of neutrinos which seem to be travelling faster than light.

Neutrinos are nearly massless  subatomic particles which have been known to travel near the speed of light. But, like all other things in the universe, they are not supposed to be able to travel faster than light.

Basically the experiment involves the creation of neutrinos at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and the neutrinos travelling 730 km to a laboratory 1,400 meters underground in Italy. There, an experiment called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) detects those neutrinos and measures how quickly it took them to make the trip.

The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds sooner than they should have. This means they were travelling at a speed of about 299 800 km/s, which is slightly higher than the speed of light, which is about 299 792 km/s.

This discovery will rock the very foundation upon which modern physics is built. Seriously, this is like the discovery that the world is round or wave-particle duality; it’s a complete game-changer.

If it’s true.

Like a lot of folks out there, I am quite skeptical of this discovery. Think of it this way: which of these two scenarios is more likely,

  1. Particles can travel faster than light, completely re-writing modern physics and decades of previous research. Or,
  2. These guys made an innocent mistake.

Now, it is certainly possible that this discovery will turn out to be genuine. However, it is much more likely that there was some kind of error or misinterpretation which has led to this result.

I would like to point out that the researchers have revealed their work in the proper way. They are excited, but very skeptical themselves and are asking the academic community to review their work and try to find a flaw. Antonio Ereditato, a physicist at the University of Bern in Switzerland and OPERA’s spokesman said in an interview

Whenever you are in these conditions, then you have to go to the community

THIS is science in action, folks! A group of physicists think they have discovered something awesome. But they haven’t started trumpeting their results like they have been absolutely confirmed, no emails were leaked suggesting the discovery, and they didn’t go to some rogue publication to get their work in print prior to peer-review.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I am very hopeful this turns out to be a genuine discovery. I can’t wait to read the papers and hear the response from the scientific community.

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Take THAT English Majors!

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

By tom Gauld

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Bad Press For Psychics; I TOTALLY Predicted That!

September 20, 2011 2 comments

I recently wrote a post about ‘Psychic Nikki’, a Toronto-area psychic who said she would be interested in taking the $1 million psychic challenge from the James Randi Education Foundation.

She has since backed away from that statement.

Now, The Guardian reports that a British psychic by the name of Sally Morgan has also gotten herself into a bit of a media firestorm.

It would seem that Ms. Morgan, Britain’s “best-loved psychic” (according to her website) did a show at the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin on September 11.

The next day, Ms. Morgan was on a radio show called Liveline on RTE Radio 1.

A woman named Sue called into the radio show and claimed she was at Ms. Morgan’s show the previous evening, and asked about a something strange she experienced.

No, it was not a ghostly, eerie psychic experience. Instead, it seems that Sue was sitting near the rear of the theater and became aware of a small room behind their seats.

Sue claims she heard a man’s voice coming from this room. Not only that, but Sue says that 

“everything that the man was saying, the psychic was saying it 10 seconds later.”

For example, the voice would say something like “David, pain in the back, passed quickly” and a few seconds later Sally would claim to have the spirit of a “David” on stage who – you’ll never guess – suffered from back pain and passed quickly.

A staff member realized that this voice was being heard by spectators, and promptly shut the window to the room.

A few other people also called into the radio show and corroborated Sue’s story.

This is a common trick used by “psychics” who do live shows. They will either have people placed in the crowd to gather information from the spectators about which spirits they would like to hear from, or use microphones to eavesdrop on conversations and gather information that way.

Someone will then feed the “psychic” this information through an earpiece, making it look like they predicted or “sensed” the information themselves.

Chris French, the writer of The Guardian article, points out that this is much like James Randi’s debunking of faith healer Peter Popoff in the mid-1980s.

Popoff, it seems, was getting information from “Prayer Cards”, information cards he asked his spectators to fill out before the show with name, address, and afflictions they would like to have “healed”.

This information was then fed to Popoff via an earpiece by his wife. And why not? They were pulling in a cool $4 million A MONTH by bilking these sick and needy people.

Sally Morgan isn’t doing too badly either; she is currently out promoting her third book and filming a third season of her TV Show, Psychic Sally on the Road.

But this isn’t the first time Ms. Morgan’s abilities have fallen under criticism. In 2007 she did a reading for Big Brother winner Brian Dowling, claiming she had never met him before.

In fact, she had done a reading for him in 2005. When questioned about this by The Independent, she simply said that she did it

because the director told me to.

But even though her techniques are getting exposed, she is going to continue to rake it in. Psychics benefit from that fact that people want to believe. So desperately do people want to speak to their dead relatives, or hear that they are going to find love that they will believe, and pay, anything to have that happen.

And there will always be those willing to take advantage of whomever they can for a few bucks.

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Ryan

Awe Arousing Appearance of Aurora

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I love aurorae. Possibly one of the most beautiful and spectacular natural phenomena to grace this planet.

Astronaut Ron Garan recently posted a fantastic photo of an aurora from Earth’s orbit on his Twitter feed:

One of the last pictures I took #FromSpace #Aurora - southern lights - dancing with #Orion 9/14/11 18:48 GMT

Makes me feel like a 9 year old kid again, wishing he could be an astronaut when he grows up.

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Ryan

If Your Bandage is Glowing, That’s Bad…

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment
Polymer

A polymer and fluorescent dye work together to cause a bandage to glow in the presence of infection.

A team of researchers at the University of Sheffield has developed an interesting way of detecting bacteria in a wound (I know, gross).

The researchers found that a polymer attached to a fluorescent dye on bandage can detect when bacteria or other harmful organisms come into contact with the wound. The polymer changes shape when the bacteria are present, activating the dye and emitting ultraviolet light.

The technique was mainly developed with military applications in mind. Being able to easily and quickly identify infected wounds on the battlefield could help significantly reduce the severity of injuries.

“If you know you’ve got infection it’s going to change how you treat your soldiers, it’s going to change how you’re going to treat those patients in the home,” Sheffield researcher Sheila McNeil said. [UPI.com]

At the moment, the technique has only been applied to artificial tissues. However, it currently takes several days to confirm the presence of infection, so there is quite an interest in expanding the technique to human trials.

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The Muppet With the Dragon Tattoo

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

A parody on the trailer for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, with…y’know, the Muppets!

Just when you think the Muppets can’t any more awesome, they do.

The Muppets opens November 23, 2011.

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