Yesterday evening the BBC ran a documentary about the OPERA neutrino results. If you are in the UK and missed it you can watch repeats over the next few days or view it online here. Probably it will be available in other countries in some form soon.
The program was presented by mathematician and author Marcus du Sautoy who has become a familiar science host on the BBC in recent years. The tone of the show was skeptical but open-minded and I think this reflects the range of views that scientists have on the subject. Marcus described the results and surrounding debate as “a great example of science in action”. The show must have been put together very quickly but it follows clear logical steps and includes most of the relevant points that should be discussed at a popular programme level. I think they did a great job of bringing in the more exciting possibilities without hype. Here are a few highlight quotes from the guest scientists.
Marcus du Sautoy: “You can almost feel the shudder that passes through the entire scientific community when a result as strange as this comes out. Everybody’s talking about it. Is this the moment for a grand new theory to emerge that makes sense of all the mysteries that still pervade physics, or has there just been a mistake in the measurement?”
Marcus du Sautoy
Chiara Sirignano (OPERA): “On top of us we have 1400m of rock, the top of Grand Sasso mountain. Here the cosmic rays are very few because outside they are 200 per square meter per second and here it is just 1 per square meter per hour. This is a very huge shielding”
John Ellis: “If the speed of light turned out not to be absolute, we would just have to tear up all the textbooks and start all over again. On the other hand it would be nice if it were true.”
Fay Dowker: “For me it would mean that the direction of my own research was wrong, so it would be a revolution but to me it would also mean that nature is just playing tricks with us”
Jon Butterworth: I actually heard about this result in the coffee bar at CERN about two weeks before it came out, and I laughed. I have to say that was my thought, they have got something wrong haven’t they?
Stefan Söldner-Rembold: “MINOS and T2K will both work very hard to get a similar measurement with a similar precision in the next few years, but it will take a few years I think”
Joao Magueijo: “Obviously this result contradicts what you find in textbooks, but if you are actually working in the frontier of physics, if you are really trying to find new theories this is not as tragic as you might think. It is a crisis, but we need a crisis because there are a lot of things in physics in those textbooks which don’t really make any sense.”
Mike Duff: “Well, I have been working on the idea of extra dimensions for over 30 years so no one would be happier than I if the experimentalists were to find evidence for them. However, To be frank, although I like the idea of extra dimensions, this is not the way they are going to show up in my opinion. So I am not offering extra dimensions as an explanation for the phenomenon that the Italian physicists are reporting.”
Tara Shears: “This could be one of those moments that turns our understanding on its head yet again, let’s us see further into the universe, let’s us understand more about how it ticks, how it sticks together, how things are related inside. If it does that, if we understand more, then it’s one of those magical moments that you get in the history of physics that just twists your understanding and brings the universe into focus, and if we are seeing the start of that now, and we are documenting it, then we are really, really, really privileged to be doing so.”