Thursday, 14 April 2011

Neutrinos - what's the point, eh?

The picture above is of Super Kamiokande, a solar and atmospheric neutrino detector in Japan.

Listening to the the blessed Melvyn this morning on In Our Time and he has this wonderful programme about neutrinos, of which I understand about 10% but am spellbound by the other 90%, when it occurs to me that this is not about what an economist like, say, Mr Gradgrind (who was keen on facts and numbers) would regard as utilitarian science. How much is a neutrino worth nowadays? Damn things are so small and useless they don't even have mass! They just slip through the universe - not to mention our bodies - in their billions and fail to do anything at all. Not an ounce of help with the GDP and will do nothing to get the economy moving. What's the point of them?

If there is anything more useless than the arts (I mean apart from the paying customers and tourism) it must be the neutrino. And would you believe it, there are professors in our publicly-funded overpaid universities, who are digging enormous holes and filling them with really expensive chambers just so they can catch a stray neutrino. And what do they do with it when they've get it? You can't sell them. No-one is going to buy a neutrino, not in today's market.

Those scientists in their ivory towers had better get off the public payroll quick. Take their Arts Council grants away. Might as well give them to poets for all the use they are.

ps Not to confused with band of the same name, or the Brazilian footballer Neutrinho.



thegedle said...

Two scientists are in the cinema. One has a bag of atoms. The other is curious.
"what are those?" he asks.
"Atoms" replies the first, "Do you want some?" He offers the bag.
The second reaches his hand out.
"Take two," says the first, "They're small."

NicoleS said...

Like the joke, Gedle. George, I'm impressed you even understood 10 per cent. Try as I might to pay attention, my eyes kept glazing over. Shameful. Maybe what I need to get neutrinos into my thick skull is cool and trendy prof Brian Cox on telly, striding about on a mountaintop against a flaming sky.

George S said...

Nice, Gedle.

Nicole - My margin of error is roughly 10%. I don't think I'm ready to be put in charge of a neutrino chamber.

Mark Granier said...

'Damn things are so small and useless they don't even have mass!'

So Gradgrind might say, but (if I understood my 1% of that fascinating programme correctly) neutrinos DO have a mass, albeit a tiny one, and this is why the initial calculations didn't add up. Another possibility for this anomaly was that something 'was wrong' with the sun!!
Of course, the one possibility that they didn't mention was that the neutrinos might have 'mutated':
see here:

George S said...

Lovely email from the producer of the programme, Tom Morris, pointing me to John Updike's poem, 'Cosmic Gall' which Updike altered when he discovered that neutrinos do in fact have mass, thereby enabling me to offer you at least a couple from this Gedle bag.

thegedle said...

yum... and of course if you mash Dan Brown and Phillip Pulman together and forget the details you may come to believe that, small as the neutrino is, there might be no art without them.