Saturday, September 24, 2011

They're Back!

Remember these guys?  They're the science ants who have been shooting particles down a tunnel that would be the envy of any hive in the world.

They're the physicists of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, and they just sent some sub-atomic neutrinos, emanating from their particle accelerator outside Geneva, to a cavern underneath Gran Sasso in Italy — a distance of 454 miles — at a speed about 60 nanoseconds faster than it would take a light beam to travel the same distance. That amounts to a speed greater than light by about 25 parts in a million.

Not much of a difference, but if the speed holds up, it will confine Einstein's theory of relativity to a world without neutrinos.

I've been expecting something like that to happen.

I went to a Catholic high school run by the Christian Brothers, and thought I was getting a good education, until I competed to get into Rice University with kids who'd had a real education in math.  There were questions on the exam I couldn't even read, let alone answer.  Probably the only person in the world with as low an opinion of Catholic education as mine is Pierce Brosnan, who also went to a Christian Brothers school.

When I started college, I was still struggling with math.  I took Calculus three times.  First time I made a B, so I took it over and made a C.  I gave my daughter a copy of that college transcript last year so she'll never have to worry about what I think about her math grades.

I dropped out of college my senior year, bummed around until I got drafted, and spent some time in and out of the Army in Germany.  Along the way, I met one of the most important people in my life, a guy named Joe Farina, who went through advanced training with me in San Antonio.  Farina was working for Lockheed at NASA and doing a six-month hitch in the Reserves.  At the end of our training, he went back to Houston and I shipped out for Germany.  We corresponded while I was in the Army, and, when I returned to Galveston from Europe, we spent the summer hanging out at the beach and the Galvez Hotel pool.  That summer, he taught me the fundamental concepts of math I should have learned when I was a kid.

Farina worked with a guy named George who had a theory about Einstein's equations I found fascinating.  According to George, the reason those electrons couldn't go faster than the speed of light wasn't that they got denser the way Einstein said.  It was because they started to wobble.

So I was thinking about George yesterday when I heard about those super-fast neutrinos.  Thinking maybe those neutrinos fly straight.  But mainly I was thinking about Joe Farina and about how in just a couple of months one guy could undo 4 years of harm caused by a bunch of incompetent educators.  I owe him more than he will ever know.