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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Neutrinos, Shmutrinos

I don't like neutrinos. I just finished reading The Periodic Kingdom, a fine book about the sub-atomic structure of the elements and the periodic table. It was a nice refresher on the structure of atoms and how it relates to chemical reactions, and it made no mention of neutrinos. I may have even learned a couple of things. So I think I have a pretty good handle on regular old sub-atomic whatsits like protons, neutrons and electrons.

And then we go and watch 2012 and suddenly I am confronted with neutrinos. Bah.

So what do we know about neutrinos? Not much. Some guy came up with the idea as a way to explain some phenomena that didn't gibe with their current theory. Then they came up with some experiments to "prove" their existence, except all their proof is indirect. It all depends on whether their story is correct or not. So far, it all hangs together, the theory, the experimental evidence, what have you. But we have never seen a neutrino and we probably never will.

It could be that we have the story all wrong, and there aren't any such things as neutrinos. Someone rooting around in a lab somewhere may discover something that doesn't fit, and our house of cards will collapse and have to be rebuilt in a new way to accommodate the new findings. Who knows? The future is cloudy, I cannot see.

In the movie they start with a neutrino detector deep underground in India. That part is at least sort of valid. There was one until the adjacent mine was shut down, and they are planning a new one, but it isn't in operation yet. And the underground tank of water that is a mile deep? Well, there is a neutrino detector in Japan that uses a huge volume of water, though I don't think it is a mile in any direction.

Reading about these facilities reminds me of the Big Science Map Project I was working on. They are building more and more scientific installations and they are getting bigger and bigger. You don't hear much about them except when they are originally built. After that things are pretty quiet unless someone makes some kind of sensational discovery. But these things last for years, and they keep adding on to them. You start looking around and you find them durn near everywhere. That was basically the downfall of my project: there didn't seem to be any end to it.

So anyway, there are several projects looking for these fabulous, undetectable whatsits. Which got me to thinking. A while back I read a Science Fiction/Fantasy novel about a newly discovered world which had a previously unknown natural force running around loose. Kind of like electricity, before we knew what electricity was. It had a rather large and troublesome effect on people's day-to-day lives. It was treated like magic. Makes me wonder if we don't have a similar situation with our own current understanding of how the world works.

As for the movie? The special effects were awesome. Waves breaking over the mountains, aircraft carrier capsized, I mean, we were there. And it was cool to see the Russian cargo jet in action, but why was John Cusack still wearing his tie at the end of the movie? Some things are destined to remain a mystery.


sharon said...

Matt says; "Nutrinos, Breakfast of Brainiacs".

Charles Pergiel said...

And durn tasty, too.