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Top Italian OPERA boffin steps down after faster-than-light mistake

Gran Sasso lab promises more neutrino experiments, though

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The Italian boffin who led the OPERA experiment that reported neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light has resigned today after the results were refuted by other scientists.

Italy's national institute of nuclear physics (INFN) said that physicist Antonio Ereditato had stepped down from his position with OPERA.

"INFN hopes that the collaboration will find its unity and new leadership again, in pursuing its primary objective, that of observing the appearance of new types of neutrinos starting with mu type neutrinos coming from CERN,” Antonio Masiero, the deputy chief at the INFN, said in an emailed statement.

"We would like to remind you, as reported in the meeting held at the INFN Gran Sasso laboratory last Wednesday, further and definitive measurements of speed of neutrinos  will be done from Gran Sasso, from four experiments (including OPERA) when CERN will send a new neutrino bunched beam at the end of April," he added.

The OPERA experiment was measuring neutrinos travelling from the CERN centre in Geneva to Gran Sasso in Italy late last year when it seemed to find that the zippy sub-atomic particle had made the journey at 60 billionths of a second faster than light, thereby disproving Einstein's special theory of relativity.

Announcement of the findings caused a storm of media attention as well as criticism from other scientists who said the results had to be wrong.

Time-travelling hopefuls were soon disappointed when do-overs of the experiment failed to reach the same conclusions. Then last month, reports emerged that OPERA had gotten the superluminal results courtesy of a faulty cable and a computer muck-up.

As a final nail in the coffin, boffins from the ICARUS experiment said earlier this month that their neutrinos definitely didn't go from CERN to Gran Sasso at faster-than-light speeds.

Announcing the ICARUS results, CERN research director Sergio Bertolucci said the OPERA results were probably wrong, but the scientists shouldn't get the blame for that.

"Whatever the result, the OPERA experiment has behaved with perfect scientific integrity in opening their measurement to broad scrutiny, and inviting independent measurements," he said.

"This is how science works." ®

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