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Fact/Fiction: Are scientists searching for a portal to a parallel universe?

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we ask if scientists are following in the footsteps of Stranger Things and trying to open a portal to another universe.

Illustration: Liam Callebout

How it was told

Stranger Things is the talk of the streaming service town at the moment with its Eighties-infused tales of parallel universes and monsters that can only be toppled by puberty-stricken kids.

The show’s story of a dark mirror world is nothing new – The Twilight Zone was mooting this idea in the Sixties while sci-fi cult heavyweight Star Trek also went there with a parallel universe where, wait for it, Spock had a goatee.

It can be little coincidence, then, that as Stranger Things season three rolls around a story surfaces about scientists searching for a portal to a parallel universe. You know, kind of like the one that the Russians are trying to open with a very powerful electric beam in the opening scene of the new series.

But alas, after NBC reported the story, it spread through UK media.

First to The Independent, which held off until paragraph four before referencing the Netflix behemoth, in “Scientists attempting to open portal to a parallel universe”.

Other titles didn’t exercise the same restraint. The Sun went for “STRANGER THAN FICTION. Scientists bid to open portal to Stranger Things parallel universe mirroring real life” while the Daily Mirror opted for the slightly on-the-nose: “Scientists are trying to open a portal to a Stranger Things-style MIRRORVERSE”.

The Daily Star was similarly telly heavy while it was Mail Online that took a different tack with “The hunt for a ‘mirror universe’: Scientists set to launch experiments to find evidence of unseen matter that could reveal a parallel state of existence”.

But is there any truth in the story?

Facts. Checked

Forget alternative universes, portals and mirror visions of yourself – the Mail Online’s take is actually the closest to reality on this story.

All the reports stem from an experiment that physicist Leah Broussard will be carrying out at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee in the United States.

The experiment, reportedly a simple one, will employ the use of a neutron beam to shoot particles at an impenetrable wall.

The academics theorise that mirror matter should exist as a copy of ‘Standard Model’ particles but with the opposite parity – the quantum-mechanical description of the wave function of a physical system.

They suggest that if the mirror matter interacts with ordinary matter there could be neutral particle oscillations. To you and me, that means measuring if the mirror matter exists by observing particles on the other side of the impassable barrier.

This has been tested before with “inconclusive results”, according to the study’s abstract.

The scientists have hardly found their gateway to the Upside Down, have they? Any hopes that these stories conjured up of travelling through a portal to see how your Earth Two doppelgänger is getting on can be dashed in the here and now.

But it is no coincidence that the story gained so much traction while Stranger Things is dominating the cultural conversation.

Sabine Hossenfelder, an author, theoretical physicist and research fellow at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, has suggested that there is scant justification for the existence of the particles beyond scientists wanting to look for them.

“We have no reason to think that these particular particles exist and interact with normal matter in just the way necessary to measure them,” she said in a blog written in response to the NBC story that also slammed the experiment as “insanity” and a “basic misunderstanding of science philosophy”.

Either way, probably best to enjoy the Netflix hijinks of Eleven, Mike, Dustin et al as fiction rather than a premonition.

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