Scientists round up speed of light to next decimal, move on

The idea came to Gerald Obviouso, a junior at Batavia High School, while napping in physics class.

“Why don’t they just round up the speed limit?” Obviouso asked.

Obviouso didn’t stop there. Later that day, he ran into a physicist street-skiing in a Batavia neighborhood outside Fermilab. On their feet again, Obviouso told Robert Plunkett, MINOS co-spokesperson, about his solution. Plunkett immediately got to work, stopping only at the Wilson Hall stairs to slip out of his street skiis.

If results from Italy’s OPRAH experiment were true and the particles actually did travel faster than the speed of light, scientists would have to rethink the most fundamental laws of physics – a lot of extra work for Plunkett.

“The results were wrong, but what if this happens again?” he said. “We’d have to retest again. And to do that we needed several data plots, Feynman diagrams, line graphs and challenging quantum analogies, along with oscillations, flavors, deviations and other terms that will obfuscate media.”

The neutrinos at the OPRAH experiment had appeared to arrive 60 nanoseconds faster than the 186,282.5 miles per second speed limit. For more than a century, this has been the standard for particle physics experiments. Now, thanks to Plunkett’s rounding up to 186,283 miles per second, the current laws of physics remain true.

Plunkett stressed that the neutrino equation calculation effort was a joint collaboration involving AD, TD, PPD, FESS, FNA, ES&H and a new Fermilab collaborator, UU&U.