Posts Tagged ‘CERN’

My 25 Mundane Neutrino Explanations

Today I had the most fun I’ve ever had on Twitter, thanks to the OPERA experiment working out of CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider.

The blogosphere is ablaze with news that they seem to have detected neutrinos traveling faster than light.  If true, it would be the biggest science news of the century, overturning one of the most fundamental concepts in physics.  There is obviously much skepticism amongst scientists.  For a typically insightful explanation, check out Bad Astronomer Phil Plait‘s post:  Faster-than-light travel discovered? Slow down, folks

The Twitter fun began when a discussion between two physicist/mathematician-types, Blake Stacey (@blakestacey) and S.C. Kavassalis (@sc_k) led Blake to tweet:

@sc_k Maybe we need to counterbalance the HEP blogohedron with a Twitter meme? e.g., #mundaneneutrinoexplanations

Then he spun out a few funny examples of more mundane explanations for the unusual neutrino measurement:

  • #CERN physicists did arithmetic on old Pentium computers
  • #CERN physicists let undergrads near the experiment
  • Calculations done by visiting Americans who still don’t get the metric system.

…  all with the #mundaneneutrinoexplanations hashtag appended.

I think I was the first one to follow his lead with:

  • Forgot to carry the one
  • Confused neutrino with one sent later
  • Study published by Wakefield et al

Then @drskyskull and @physicsdavid and others joined in (even astophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and the Bad Astronomer) and, before you know it, the Twitterverse was alive with funny explanations, some of which may be as likely as superluminal neutrinos.  I ended up spitting out about 25 of them, which I present here, as they were tweeted, in reverse chronological order (so start from the bottom).  Enjoy!




The Scientific Mind Behind FlashForward

Our most recent video for is about the new ABC series, “FlashForward.”  The show is based on the 1999 novel by Canadian science fiction author Robert J. Sawyer, whom we met this summer at the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop.

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Science Foo Camp 2008: Chapter 2 – The Hotel

The SciFoo experience begins before the first session – even before we get to the Googleplex (Get thee to the Googleplex!).

There was the Wiki, as previously discussed, for first virtual encounters.  Then SciFoo weekend arrived.

On Friday afternoon, my taller half and I checked into the Wild Palms Hotel in Sunnyvale.  Sadly, jealously, Tara would not be joining me at the unconference.  As I frolicked at the vast Google empire, she’d be getting to know every square inch of our little hotel room.  Whereas I’d be interacting with 200 scientists and science and science fiction writers, she’d be interfacing with a stack of science and science fiction books.  I’d have Neal Stephenson; she’d have The Diamond Age.  I’d have Ann Druyan; she’d have Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.

Shuttles would begin ferrying campers to the Googleplex around 5:15pm.  Tara and I went down to the hotel lobby a little early to join the gathering crowd.  We rounded a corner and bumped right into Esther and George Dyson, sitting exactly as captured here in their natural habitat by Betsy Devine.  They were very sweet and wished us first-timers a great experience.

Minutes later, Prabhat Agarwal introduced himself.  Prabhat is a former condensed-matter physicist who now works for the Future and Emerging Technologies Unit at the European Commission.  His job is to identify and support new areas of information-related science, and he told us about his personal interest in how we recognize something as new.  I’m still convinced that we rely mostly on the new-concept smell.

Jim Hardy has a pic from a few minutes later of Tara and me talking to Brian Cox and his wife Gia Milinovich.  Tara and Gia are in opposition, and I’m nearly totally eclipsed by Brian.  John Gilbey’s left eye makes a special uncredited appearance.  [Jim sends along this link to a bigger version]

This was the first of several conversations I’d have with Brian and Gia.  Brian is a particle physicist who works on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva.  Gia calls herself a science groupie and broadcaster.  She’s worked on some pretty cool stuff like the CERN podcast and Walking with Robots and the new X-Files movie.

They are not only a couple but also a couple of the people I’d see the most throughout the weekend.  We ended up in a lot of the same sessions, although I was sorry to miss Brian’s LHC session.

We talked a bit about the LHC and laughed about the well-publicized fear that it would create micro-black holes that would destroy the Earth.  Although there is a chance that MBH’s will be created, it would require that the universe contain a few extra unseen dimensions, an aspect that is wished for by string theorists and others but still unproven (at least by us terrans in our local 4-dimensional spacetime realm).  Also, if created, the black holes would be so small and likely disappear so quickly (due to Hawking Radiation) that they may be undetectable by the LHC’s sensors.  A far cry from devouring the planet.

For an excellent fictional treatment of a similar catastrophe on Mars, check out Larry Niven’s Hugo Award-winning short story, The Hole Man.  Much fun!

A few minutes before we started boarding the shuttles, Steve Goldfinger introduced himself to me and Tara.  He lives up in the Marin area, as I recall, and we live in SF.  Steve is co-founder of Global Footprint Network.  We sat together on the ride to the Googleplex, discussing sustainability (his field) and science comedy (mine).

Steve also mentioned having been impressed with some science fiction by Kim Stanley Robinson – although we laughed when he accidentally called him “Kim Stanley Andersen,” which I suggested was a mash-up with Hans Christian Andersen.

I don’t know which Robinson work he was talking about but sustainability was a major theme (which it often is for Robinson) and it was not the Mars Trilogy (perhaps the Three Californias Trilogy or his most recent novels Forty Signs of Rain and Fifty Degrees Below).

As we arrived at Google, Steve and I exchanged business cards.  I had a great time chatting with him, but after we left the shuttle, I only ever saw him in passing perhaps once more.

Tara reads Niven & Pournelle's The Mote in God's Eye. On the nightstand: Asimov's The God's Themselves, Sagan & Druyan's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Farmer's To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight. Tara is a voracious reader.