Neutrinos, John Updike and Cosmic Gall

I’m suspect it may not have been part of his overall plan, but the death of John Updike coincided (can I say ‘nicely’?) with our class on Neutrinos.

There are some strange particles out there, but not many as strange as the neutrino.
Here’s what the syllabus has to say on neutrinos:

If momentum is not conserved, a third particle (neutrino) must be present.

And that’s it.
Here’s what Updike has to say.
This is why scientists need poetry.

Cosmic Gall

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,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
and painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
and pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed-you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

Telephone Poles and Other Poems, John Updike, Knopf, 1960

What a wonderful counter to the claim that Science leads to a loss of wonder due to over-analysis (now replace ‘Science’ with ‘Science Education’ and that’s a different matter.)

Updike is referring to the fact that are about 50 trillion of these buggers passing through us every second! (rounded off to the nearest whole number, obviously).
I need to say more about these guys in a later post; their origins are just as amazing. Maybe I could use a podcast to try and get across the emotion that should be part and parcel of discussing neutrinos.

Anyway I say put that poem on the syllabus. And for the exam itself one word would suffice: “Discuss”.