Natural Science

'Speed of light' scientist resigns over mistake


The Italian professor who challenged Einstein’s famous theory of relatively, leading an experiment that appeared to show tiny particles moving faster than the speed of light, has resigned from his post.

Antonio Ereditato stepped down as coordinator of the OPERA experiment at Italy’s national institute of physics on Friday, Reuters reported.

The INFN -- the National Institute of Nuclear Physics -- had no comment beyond saying it "took note" of his decision. It was not immediately possible to reach Ereditato for a comment, Reuters said.

Einstein theorized that the speed of light in a vacuum -- approximately 186,280 miles per second, or about 700 million miles per hour -- is an absolute speed limit, and used the value in his famous formula, E = mc2.

The theory that some tiny bits of matter were whizzing along faster than Einstein thought possible was announced in Sept. 2011, when physicists with the CERN lab in Switzerland said they observed neutrinos completing a 454-mile racecourse faster than a beam of light would.

When announcing their follow-up finding in November, scientists at INFN said that their tests were intended to exclude one potential effect that may have affected the original measurement.

"A measurement so delicate and carrying a profound implication on physics requires an extraordinary level of scrutiny," said Fernando Ferroni, president of the INFN.

Apparently, yet more scrutiny was required.

Scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva confirmed in mid-March that colleagues from their rival team were a little hasty with their announcement.

"The evidence is beginning to point toward the OPERA [rival team] result being an artifact of the measurement," CERN research director Sergio Bertolucci said March 16. The OPERA team already admitted rather sheepishly last month that a malfunctioning cable may have been responsible for their astonishing claim that some particles may be able to travel faster than light speed.