Field of Science

Everthing just got a little bit smaller

Oh, the Phactor sensed it as soon as he woke this morning; a chunky black cat landed on me with just slightly less force, the newspaper, never much of a news heavy weight anyways landed on the front steps with just a bit less of a thud, and the whole cosmos just seemed smaller somehow. A crazy feeling to have, but there in the news was perhaps the shocking reason: the proton is actually 4% smaller previously thought! Physicists reactions were predictable, 1. perhaps they've been wrong all along (yeah, right!), although using the wrong size for protons hasn't affected how well things like lasers, gravity, and atomic bombs work, and a new more accurate measuring stick (muon scatter) has improved the accuracy; or 2. maybe the new experiment was in error or measurements were calculated wrongly so the work will be checked, and rechecked, then checked again (it's what those graduate students are for). The thing about this is a 4% difference in the size of the proton is the physicists equivalent of missing by a mile in a land where things are calculated to 10 or 12 decimal places routinely. In botany we deal in nice whole numbers if we have numerical data at all. The newly measured proton has a diameter of 0.84184 femtometers, and 1 femtometer, in case you were wondering, is 1 quadrillionth of a meter (10 to minus 15 meters). Numbers like this don't have much meaning to you unless you're working on calculating the national debt, however, maybe, just maybe, everything just got a little bit smaller, so my worrisome feeling continues.

No comments: