What was this precious cargo? A scientific instrument that researchers hoped would shed new light on the field of physics once it reached its new home in a new lab.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, this is not bad news. The purpose of science is to seek truth. With this goal in mind, researchers are constantly returning to their data and checking to see if measurements and theories agree or disagree. While agreement is always satisfying, it’s in the disagreement that progress is made. When a theory is shown to predict something other than what a valid measurement has revealed, scientists rethink their theory and adjust it.
These scientists measured how fast the muon actually precesses and the prediction from the standard model and measurement disagreed. When data and theory disagree, one (or both) of them, must be wrong. And if the theory is wrong, that’s because scientists overlooked something when they crafted it.
To give a practical example, introductory physics says that a thrown baseball will follow a perfect parabolic arc. However, that prediction ignores real world air resistance and thus the simple prediction and the actual path of the baseball disagree. In order to be accurate, the theory must be expanded to include the effects due to air drag.
The disagreement between measured and predicted precession properties of muons could have meant that our best understanding of the subatomic world is overlooking something. Or it could have meant that the original experiment was flawed in some way. A second and hopefully more precise measurement was needed.
So, the g-2 experimental equipment — a ring of magnets in the shape of a hula hoop, 50 feet across and 6 feet high — took that long trip by boat and truck from Long Island to Fermilab, just outside of Chicago.
Truthfully, this is why I love science so much. It’s never complete. It’s never absolute. It’s always open to new data and new ideas. It is constantly being challenged and tested by people who know it best. And sometimes measurements are made that tell the experts that the theory that they’ve known for years needs to be revisited. The recently released results are one such measurement.
When you recognize that discovering truth is more important than proving yourself right, you realize that being wrong teaches you something new. And if you accept and embrace that newness, you have a much better chance of actually being right. That’s what science is all about.