Pauli's Poltergeist

by John E. Gray

'Tis not often
a correction must be made
to a poem.
Mercurial science, the subject:
particle physics.
A writer takes risks.

               Neutrinos, they are very small.
               They have no charge and have no mass
               And do not interact at all.
               The earth is just a silly ball
               To them, through which they simply pass. . . (Updike)

The error laid bare in Albuquerque.
Experimental results announced
the case,
building for years.
They are not entirely without heft.

Done purely for the intellectual thrill,
a beauty all their own.
Donning helmets with Cyclopean lights,
physicists crowd a clattering elevator,
the daily commute down the mine shaft.
They trudge the rocky corridor
to the detector.

The brightly lit subterranean lab
has 10,000 squinting electronic eyes
surrounding a Fulleresque scaffolding
Suspended inside an artificial lake.
10 stories deep,
a large acrylic sphere holds
tons; a substance
heavy water.
Beefed up hydrogen
an extra neutron in their cores.

Day by day
they wait:
a neutrino speeding through the earth
to collide
a heavy hydrogen nucleus.

The result
a tiny flash (Cherenkov radiation),
from the center
a wink of light
a traveler from the sun.
Cosmic Gall,
insouciant as neutrinos are.
They do occasionally consort,
with their neighbors.

A sad day for poetry.
"They have no charge and little mass"
doesn't ring the same.
Someone should write a poem about it.

Copyright © 2005, John E. Gray
* With thanks to George Johnson for suggesting the topic.

SNO detector

Photo courtesy of Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory/SNO

John E. Gray is a physicist and mathematician by education. He works for DOD working in various aspects of radar, estimation, and electromagnetism since he left graduate school. He has written and published physics and philosophy papers as a hobby. He has been writing essays and poetry throughout most of his life. He has in the last year decided to take writing more seriously and pursue publication of poetry. He is considering doing the same for some essays about various aspects of science.

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SNO detector photo courtesy of Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory