Science Interviews


Sun, 25th Sep 2011

Speedy Neutrinos, Hydrogen Cells and Promiscuous Females.

James Gillies, CERN
Michael Zasloff, Georgetown University
Bruce Logan, Pennsylvania State University
Matthew Gage, University of East Anglia

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Neutrinos faster than Light

Meera - Scientists might have found particles travelling faster than the speed of light. The OPERA experiment sent a beam of subatomic neutrino particles from the CERN facility in Geneva to the Grand Sasso Laboratory 732 kilometres away. The neutrinos appear to have travelled 0.0025% faster than the speed of light, a finding which, if confirmed, could revolutionise modern physics, CERNS James Gillies comments on the discovery...

James -   Everybody in physics is going to be looking for an independent measurement before they decide whether this is true or whether itís not.  A lot of people seem to think that science is about proving things.  Itís actually the opposite Ė science is about knocking things out.  Itís about disproving stuff.  It happens all the time.  What's different this time is that the stakes are that much higher because the speed of light being a cosmic speed limit is one of the fundamental tenets of physics.  So if this turns out to be right, then there's some serious head scratching to be done.



Shark Antiviral

Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis)Meera - A compound found in the liver of dogfish sharks could treat a range of human viruses. The compound squalamine was found to be effective against diseases such as dengue, yellow fever and Hepatitus B and D in animal models by altering the environment needed for the viruses to survive inside a cell... as Michael Zasloff from Georgetown University explains...

Michael -   What squalamine has taught us is that by changing the characteristics of a cell or a tissue, it can render that cell or that tissue resistant to a virus.  So it's not targeting the virus, but basically changing the design, the internal architecture of the cell to make that cell or tissue inhospitable for viral replication or viral growth.


Limitless Hydrogen Cell

Meera - Water could be used to provide limitless supplies of hydrogen. Microbial fuel cells harness the breakdown or organic matter by bacteria to produce Hydrogen, but electricity is needed to power the process. Until now this has been provided by fossil fuels but now Bruce Logan from Penn State University has developed a way using water.

Bruce -   What we figured out was that we could use the salinity difference between freshwater and saltwater.  This is a process called Ďreverse electrodialysisí where if you have freshwater and saltwater next to each other, that can create energy.  Itís like running uphill takes energy, running downhill doesnít take energy.  And now, you have a system where the electrical power isn't needed because the energy is being extracted from this salinity difference.


Promiscuity in inbred females

Flour beetlesMeera - And finally, female promiscuity could be beneficial to a population. Working with flour beetles, Matthew Gage from the University of East Anglia found that females in small populations, where thereís a higher risk of inbreeding, behave promiscuously to increase their chances of reproductive success...

Matthew -   Females were able to have their eggs fertilised by males that carry genes that had greater complementarity, and what that translated into was females gaining genetic benefits by mating with more males because they're able to somehow choose the right males or the right sperm to give great genetic benefits to their offspring, and so have higher offspring viability and leave more offspring in the next generation.

Meera - The team aim to explore further benefits of promiscuity in larger populations to explain why the behaviour is so widespread across the animal kingdom.


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A neutrino could not exceed or reach the speed of light, given that it has mass (2.2 ev). Unless of course relativity was altered in some fundamental way (or discarded). Dr.Abdullah, Fri, 7th Oct 2011

Hello and welcome  Abdullah - the Doc was probably referring to the latest results from CERN/OPERA Gran Sasso. 

The scientists at Gran Sasso have, after extensive research and double checking, published their results which seem to suggest that the neutrinos they tracked made the journey from CERN in Switzerland to Gran Sasso in Italy faster than light!  There is a huge amount of checking and recalculating going on, and the general feeling (even from OPERA) is that there is a mistake; but no one has been able to find a systematic or measuring error so far.

Here is the preprint

And here is the link to our meanderings on the subject
imatfaal, Fri, 7th Oct 2011

Interesting, seems to me two possibilities arise

1. data mishandling/human error of some sort.
2. the value of C is actually approximate, and therefore under certain conditions faster than light travel is possible.
Dr.Abdullah, Fri, 7th Oct 2011

If for example the faster than light neutrinos were anti-neutrinos and were going backwards in time they would appear to be travelling faster than light.  Would this violate relativity?  I know nothing is supposed to travel faster than light but relativity does allow for the possibility of antimatter time reversal. Time reversal may look the same as going faster than the speed of light but the speed of light is still a cosmic speed limit for matter in a matter universe. MikeS, Fri, 7th Oct 2011

An anti-particle should still travel at the same velocity, but from point B to A rather than A to B. Correct me if im wrong Dr.Abdullah, Fri, 7th Oct 2011

Umm... Happy to do so. If an anti-particle is generated at point A and detected at point B, it has, in fact travelled from point A to point B. There is a fundamental symmetry that makes this equivalent to a particle travelling from point B to point A, but that does not mean that the anti-particle defies the simple meaning of words.

I was reminded of a time when a colleague. in a rush and heading in the opposite direction. asked me to "turn around and walk backwards" because there was something he wanted to discuss with me. He was very surprised when I did exactly as he asked.
damocles, Fri, 7th Oct 2011

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