Scientists take quantum leap into lay logic

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 September, 2005, 12:00am

If there is an award for obscure and incomprehensible press releases, this one from the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (Cern) would win hands down.

Cern recently completed construction of an 'assembly' in Geneva that will send trillions and trillions of neutrinos to another lab near Rome.

The 730km journey, scheduled for May, will help 'unravel the mysteries of nature's most elusive particles', the release grandly announces.

It goes on to helpfully explain why this is so. Well, neutrinos come in different 'flavours' - a technical term in nuclear physics - like 'vanilla and strawberry'. The neutrinos leaving Cern are of the muon (vanilla) type. By the time they reach Rome, some will have changed into the tau (strawberry) type.

I've got your attention now, haven't I?

A key property of neutrinos is that they mainly interact with each other and change from one 'flavour' to another, so while you may want chocolate, you may end up with vanilla. However, they rarely mingle with other particles.

The lab near Rome will measure the number of tau neutrinos that will have been created (previous experiments only counted the number of muons that have disappeared).

Both methods of counting are complementary, and are integral to 'understanding the universe and its evolution', the press release says.

Perfectly clear! No? What's wrong with you? Don't you have a PhD in quantum physics?