Scientists side with Einstein on light speed

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2011, 12:00am


Foreign and domestic scientists on the mainland have joined the debate over the supposed detection of faster-than-light particles announced in Europe last week.

From visiting winners of the Nobel Prize in physics to frontline researchers tracing similar particles, most have sided with Albert Einstein's century-old theory of relativity, which rules that nothing travels faster than light.

But at this stage, with a different experiment to verify the result still years away, it remains a war based on faith, not evidence.

Astrophysicist George Smoot - winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize and a professor at the University of California, Berkeley - told Xinhua on Monday that he remained loyal to Einstein.

'I'm willing to bet money that it's not correct. [It] did not make sense,' Smoot said at the government-sponsored Nobel Laureates Beijing Forum.

Carlo Rubbia, a leading physicist at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, expressed a similar view, adding that revealing the findings to the public was a mistake. The experiment contradicting Einstein was done by his colleagues at Cern.

'What it is pretending to find, in my view, is unbelievably surprising,' the 1984 Nobel Prize-winner said. 'I will be very, very surprised if, at last, Einstein will not be the winner.'

Many mainland scientists also sided with Einstein, casting doubts on some technical issues of the European experiment.

On, the mainland's biggest online scientific community, critics compiled a list of possible instrumentation errors and said that any of them could make the tiny subatomic particles, or neutrinos, appear to travel faster than light.

Global positioning systems, for instance, came under fire. In the so-called Opera experiment, named after the neutrino detector in Italy, the tiny particles were sent from the Cern laboratory in Switzerland to the Opera detector.

The research needed GPS precision down to a centimetre to accurately measure time and distance of the travelling neutrinos, but most civilian GPS devices can be off by 10 metres.

And some critics said it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to simultaneously clock the events in two laboratories more than 700 kilometres apart.

But Professor Cao Jun , lead scientist of the mainland's neutrino experiment at Daya Bay, urged his fellow scientists to read the paper carefully before making negative comments.

'The theory of relativity has received many different and repeated verifications in a century, and has become one of the two pillars of modern physics, so people's first reaction is that the Opera experiment got the measurement wrong,' Cao said.

'More than 200 scientists have participated in the Opera experiment, and they published the official results with repeated checks and scrutiny. Though I cannot rule out the possibility of a mistake, I have no doubt about their principles and techniques.'