So if your days have been anything like mine in recent weeks anytime I talk to anyone with even a vague semblance of what particle physics is and that I am an experimentalist (in training of course) the question comes….
“So what about CERN proving Einstein wrong with those things going faster than light?”
To which I respond politely, “Crazy stuff…but anytime someone says they see something going faster than light I put my hand on my wallet because something is fishy”.
If the person is nice/interested enough to want a further explanation I try to explain what the OPERA measurement is along with loads of caveats that I don’t work on this experiment, as scientists they did hundreds of cross-checks, and that they wouldn’t release this result if they weren’t convinced something is strange here…etc…etc…
If someone is daring enough to push and ask what I think about it my response has been simple: “Science is about repeatability and accuracy so I’ll wait till the next group of experimentalists weighs in”.
Today on the BBC I saw the news announcement that “Faster-than-light neutrino experiment to run again“. Aside from the obvious things wrong with the title of the argument (this wasn’t an experiment to search for faster-than-light neutrinos) the article explains that during this next run they are going to attempt to remove on of the largest possible sources of systematic errors in the OPERA measurment, namely the length of the length of the proton bunch widths being sent towards Gran Sasso from 10 microseconds to ~ 1 nanosecond with ~ 500 nanoseconds between pulses.
While you still can’t measure exactly which neutrino is from which proton the way you would like to in a perfect measurement, this should allow them to be more accurate on average than before and take away a source of error many people I would consider experts have said is of greatest concern.
While I’m sure this is only one of many improvements that will be made to this measurement to address all the…shall we say…”constructive criticism” the OPERA experiment has received since their result. The bad news is that if they end up with a null measurement and find that neutrinos don’t in fact go faster than the speed of light the news and fan fare will be much less…because while for scientists a null result is still a result…for the rest of the world a null result is not news.
So I think we have some interesting times in experimental physics coming in the very near future!