• Question: Have any of your experiments ever gone wrong, and if so, what happened?

    Asked by Tangerine.Cytruss to Stewart, Miriam, Marton, Laura, Kathryn, David on 13 Nov 2018.
    • Photo: David Ho

      David Ho answered on 13 Nov 2018:


      I work mainly with a computer so I don’t really do experiments myself. But things can still go wrong — I once spent a long time wondering why the numbers I was calculating didn’t look right, and I realised it was because I had used a minus sign instead of a plus sign!

      Another good story is why the Large Hadron Collider, an experiment I work closely with, had to be shut down a couple of years ago. It turns out a weasel had nibbled through the cables!
      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-36173247

    • Photo: Stewart Martin-Haugh

      Stewart Martin-Haugh answered on 13 Nov 2018:


      Absolutely! For me that usually means a bug in computer code. My code is used 24 hours a day by a bank of 50,000 computers to filter interesting data from the collisions at the Large Hadron Collider, so if it has bugs you start to see that quickly. Also, it means we might be throwing away data that we need! Sometimes I’ve had to solve these quite quickly and do extra work to find the problem. I’ve also fixed a few bugs caused by other people’s code.

      I definitely did experiments in lab classes that didn’t work, for whatever reason. I’m still not very good at the really hands-on side of physics.

    • Photo: Miriam Hogg

      Miriam Hogg answered on 13 Nov 2018:


      I model things on computers so I don’t really experiment with physical things, and things go wrong with my models all the time. When I did my degree at university we had to do some hands-on lab work, and I think in nearly every case the equipment either didn’t work or broke half way through. Its part of the reason I decided to go into theory rather than applied physics.

      I know lots of scientists who do work in an actual labs and most of them have broken something or had to redo an experiment because it went wrong. (rats nibble through wires especially in equipment that’s outside, also had a friend make a material over the course of a few days and have to throw it away because it got some dirt in it and ruined the structure) It definitely happens a lot more than people admit

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