Mark shuffled past the first few scientists in the row to find his seat. One of the seated men recoiled as Mark stepped on his foot.
"Sorry." Mark said, as surprised as the man on whose foot he had stepped.
He was in a stress induced fog. Both sure that this conference would end his career, and that it would be the most important moment in all of their lives... In hindsight probably.
He found his seat and sat down heavily. The normal hum of whispered conversations, a barely controlled undercurrent of excitement coursing through the crowd, but Mark sat stone still.
The lights in the auditorium flicked twice, the hum of conversations cut off like someone had pulled the plug out of the speakers. Some adjusted in their seats, but even those noises stopped when Dr. Alice Vinman entered from the side door. All eyes followed her as she made her way to the stage.
Mark could hear someone a few rows back clear their throat.
Dr. Vinman adjusted her computer on the podium and then looked up at the dead silent auditorium filled with her colleagues from around the world.
"Well lighten up, it's just a physics conference," she cracked with a smile, and the tension in the room released into easy laughter.
"For the last year my team and I have been re-deriving the standard model at the greatest precision yet for science." She started.
Some graphs flicked to life on the large screen behind her. And then more, and more filled the screen, overlapping each other in comical ways.
"So yes, the machine works. And we've added between 2 and 5 significant figures to most of the accepted measurements." Vinman paused for dramatic effect.
"But I'm guessing that's not why you came here today." A smile grew at the corners of her mouth.
"Before I continue, I would like to acknowledge the second team that has been working with us on this project. Dr. Mark Boden and his... eclectic group of colleagues." Some snickers ran through the crowd.
"... have been working tirelessly beside us, and I'm very interested to find out what it is exactly they've been working on."
Vinman paused again, clearly savoring this moment, then clicked to the next slide.
ud @ 5Σ
Flashed across the massive screen behind her.
"Gentleman, the standard model is dead."
Another moment of stunned silence, and then cheers erupted from the crowd.
Alice Vinman oversaw the rowdiness with the satisfaction of a future Nobel Laureate. After a few more moments she gestured to the crowed to calm down.
"Okay, let me run through this." She said, and clicked through to the next slide.
"We have definitively seen a meson at 5 standard deviations, composed of one up quark and one down quark. In chromodynamic terms, this meson is not white. For any journalists in the room let me put that more plainly: according to the standard model, it should not exist."
"Our team has no explanation for it, except that we are sure new physics will be required to understand it."
The elation coursed through Dr. Vinman, all of the pent up stress of the last two years releasing. She still had to explain the difficulty in obtaining this result, but she felt more confident about that now. She clicked to the next slide.
A timeline of the last year appeared with regions marked in red.
"This discovery did not come without some difficulty." She continued.
"At various points throughout our run the signal was so strong we wanted to run out and tell you all in the halls."
She clicked again, and the first red section highlighted: January through July.
"Initially our data was tracking exactly as expected, through winter and into the spring this was turning out to be as boring as the rest of you expected it would be."
"Then in August we had strong signals on many different days, we were starting to get excited, but going into September the signals evaporated."
She clicked again and the red bar over September highlighted. Heads nodded in the audience, this was pretty common in high energy particle physics. Statistics was a harsh mistress.
"But in October the signal began returning, sporadically. When we had the signal it was strong, but then it would disappear for several days."
"We, of course, expected it to be a problem with the detectors, or possibly the collections algorithms. This is when many of you will remember us coming to you and asking for help to verify there wasn't a problem in your particular areas of expertise."
"Finally, in November, the signals became clearer; there was undeniably a new particle being made in our machine."
"This continued and strengthened into December."
She clicked again, and the time line zoomed into November and December, red bars indicating individual days that no signal was detected. A low murmur passed through the crowd.
"Now you all are noticing the seeming regularity in the no-detection days. We of course noticed these as well, the detections were especially strong on Tuesdays."
The crowd chuckled a little.
"And the days immediately preceding and following Tuesdays."
The crowded nodded along more cautiously this time.
"This is partly why it has taken us so long to compile our results. This regularity seemed very odd to us. But we've spent the last year since the run examining every circuit and screw in this machine, with all of you, and can't find any systemic reason for this regularity. What we can say for sure is the signal is strong enough, and recurrent enough, to qualify for discovery. And maybe whatever new physics lies ahead will explain the apparent pattern here."
There was some unease in the audience at this, but no open dissent.
She looked around, feeling a bit exhausted now.
"As promised, I will now bring up my colleague Dr. Mark Boden to present his team's findings. I'm just as curious as you all are as our teams worked together, but completely independently, over the past 2 years."
A smirk tugged at the corner of her mouth.
"I'm especially curious to find out who some of the interesting characters are that you guys were inviting into our detector rooms!"
More laughter rumbled through the audience as she closed her laptop and proceded to her seat further back on the stage.
Mark took one more second to steel himself. He could still back out, maybe he could just walk out the door instead of going on stage. But as he had these thoughts he saw his legs propelling him up the steps to the podium.
He set his laptop down and fumbled with the wires to hook it up. Feeling especially clumsy with all eyes on him, it felt like it took an inordinate amount of time to get his slides up on the projector.
Finally he looked back at the massive projector screen to make sure it was working, and then forward at the audience. They were certainly not nearly as tense as when Alice had first taken the stage just a few minutes earlier.
Mark cleared his throat nervously, and began.
"As Dr. Vinman indicated, my team worked along side her team every step of the way, we had our own room, down in the detector hall, which was strictly off limits to all staff except my team."
He looked out at the audience, a bit of malaise creeping across their collective faces. He clicked to the next slide. A small room with tiny rugs on the floor, and various very non-sciencey things hanging on the walls. The crowd shifted to a more quizzical stance.
"During every run of the machine my team was in this room performing our own experiments."
A murmur of confusion at the back of the auditorium, but Mark pressed on. Click. Another slide appeared, a timeline vaguely similar to the first team's. Except inverted.
"This was a high risk, high reward experiment so when our first five months showed no positive results, that was not shocking to any on the team."
More sideways glances in the audience.
"But in July one of our members had a hypothesis as to why we might be failing."
"Failing at what?" someone shouted from the crowd.
Mark nodded and held up his hand. "Please, just bear with me a little longer."
Collecting himself, he continued.
"This was when we started bringing in some outside contributors to the experiment."
Click. The slide changed to show Dr. Vinman's timeline, with Mark's super imposed on top of it. August 2nd was highlighted on both of their timelines. DETECTION marked on Vinman's timeline, and "Contributor C" on Boden's.
The crowd's unrest intensified.
"This was our first success, after changing several variables in the new approach, we got a hit. We continued tweaking and tuning the variables throughout the month."
Click. Click. Click. The slide updated again and again, each time revealing one to one correlation with Vinman's detection of the ud meson, and Boden's "contributors."
"We did not believe our own success, so we designated September as our control month. We continued bringing in our contributors that we had found effective, but we just sat in the room and did nothing."
Click. The slide showed September, no detection, and no activity from Boden's team.
"Starting in October we had refined our theory and began testing in earnest. I was still ineffective as an experimenter, but our contributor from Ecuador took it upon himself to train me. And finally in December, I had my first positive hit."
Click. The timeline highlighted one of Dr. Vinman's more concrete detection runs, and on Boden's timeline it listed "Experimenter A."
Mark glanced back at Alice, a look of horror across her face.
He turned back to the audience. Click. The words "Efficacy of Prayer on the Physical World" flashed onto the huge screen. And the audience lost it. Shouting and loud conversation, a few boos from around the room. The elderly and widely respected director of the institute stepped on stage from the wings and strode to the microphone.
"Order in here, Order!" The pandemonium quieted down.
"Are you a bunch of school children, or men of science? Listen to what Dr. Boden has to say, then tear it apart as you will."
The elder statesman of the institute had spoken, and order returned, but with a decidedly unfriendly air.
Mark tried to ignore the audience, and just press on.
"The first six months of the experiment, my five colleagues and I determined a particular physical phenomenon that could not happen by chance. And then we spent each day during the accelerator run praying for that particular outcome. Not expecting anything other than the null hypothesis, we were not surprised at our failure to achieve anything."
"We researched prayer in different cultures and religions, we tried different times of day, different religious traditions. We tried alone, and in groups. And predictably, nothing happened."
"Then on July 17^th^ one member of the team, who wishes to remain anonymous, suggested that it might not be working because we were all atheists."
"We spent the rest of the month putting together a roster of people of faith from various traditions and cultures, and scheduling them to come in and pray at our machine."
"We started with a Catholic priest on a Sunday, the first day of the month, and saw no result. A few other null results, and finally, a Jewish rabbi from South America came in on a Tuesday, and prayed for five hours during the accelerator run."
Incredulous looks pervaded the sea of faces in front of him.
"We got so caught up in the excitement the next day of a possible blip by the other team, we didn't even think about our own experiment's possible effect on it."
Click. The slide showed several days of no discovery for Vinman's team.
"Then we made the correlation, and we invited our Ecuadorian contributor back."
Click. Again, Vinman's team showing a blip, but a weaker signal this time.
"We thought we might have something, so we began changing the time of day, retesting other religions, and other people from those religions throughout the month of August."
Click. Click. Click. More graphs correlating signals with "Contributor C."
"During our control month we formulated the next three month run of our experiment. We wanted to test if it was just Contributor C or other people from his faith. Also, could it be the other derived faiths: Christianity, Islam?"
"Over the course of October we began formulating a theory from our results. And November and December helped to refine our working hypothesis."
Click. A bulleted list appeared:
- Members of the Jewish faith produced the strongest results
- Members of derived faiths produced weaker, but detectable, results: Christianity, Islam
- Notable: Catholic sect did not produce any results
- Members must truly believe in their faith or no result was detected
- Many members that said they were true believers produced no result
- There seems to be an inverse correlation between wealth and results
- Physical artifacts from the particular tradition made no detectable change in the result
- Tuesday is the most effective day, Monday and Wednesday are less effective. Other days almost no effect. Working theory is that what we now call Tuesday was once the actual Sabbath, but due to calendar changes over the centuries, it was lost.
- Distance matters: effective up to 200 meters from detector. Apparent logarithmic drop off as distance increases from detector.
A stunned silence filled the room, but Mark continued without waiting for a response from the crowd.
"Finally, due to the preponderance of evidence, I began to truly believe myself in what I was seeing. And on December 12th I had my first result."
Click. A photo of Dr. Mark Boden kneeling in prayer side by side with a timeline showing a strong signal from Vinman's team.
Mark looked back at the projector screen, at the photo of himself, knowing nothing would ever be the same. Then slowly back to the audience. A mixture of emotions across the faces now, inscrutable to him.
He leaned into the microphone and said in a calm voice, "Thank you for your time." and walked off stage.