Stephen, a new contributor to Middblog, will be writing a semi-regular science column for our often neglected but still important community of Bi-Hallers.
Many people outside of physics departments may not know that there is in fact (for now) a universal speed limit. This universal speed limit is also known as the speed of light, or roughly 300000000 m/s. Back in the early 1900’s when Albert Einstein revolutionized the world as we know it, he postulated the most famous equation for which he did not win the Nobel prize, E=mc^2. In his proofs and those by many others, it has now long been understood that anything with mass cannot travel faster or at, the speed of light.
This fundamental understanding of Einstein’s theory on relativity has been a cornerstone for the study of physics for the last 90 years. However just as the world underwent a physical revolution when Einstein created his theory of relativity, another revolution may be on the rise after recent findings. At the CERN facility in France/Switzerland, Italian scientists have experimentally found particles moving faster than the speed of light! Check out this news posting by Nature
Even though this result has not been officially published, it obviously will undergo very strict testing and retesting in the upcoming months. On the off chance that this result turns out to be true and that it is possible for objects with mass, or near negligible mass, to travel faster than the speed of light, then a number of questions are bound to be raised about our thinking for the past decades. How will the scientific community react? How will those who have taught and researched physics change their courses and approaches to understanding material when teaching individuals such as Middlebury students?
This result, although with much more studying to be done to “prove” if in fact possible, brings to light a finding with the biochemical world earlier this year. A NASA exoplanetary scientist has shown that bacteria living in aquatic environments with very high temperatures and salt concentrations could incorporate Arsenic into their DNA. Arsenic replaced what humans and the rest of the living world use, Phosphorous, for some portions of their DNA components (Arsenic is quite lethal at very low concentrations). This led to a complete reexamination of what could be the fundamental chemical necessities for life on Earth and more importantly, life on other planets.
Regardless of whether or not the result at CERN turns out to be proven or due to some form of experimental error, it highlights many important issues in the study of the sciences. How much evidence is needed to “prove” something to be true or false? And more importantly, how do we respond to finding out that what we have based our research on for the past 90 years turns out to be false?