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“If you find some matter particle such as the neutrino going faster than light, this is something which immediately shocks everybody, including us,” Ereditato said.

The experiment needs to be independently reviewed _ most likely by teams in the U.S. or Japan.

“If this result holds, and I kind of doubt it, it means we’ll have to rewrite all of modern physics,” said Kaku, author of the book “Physics of the Future” and host of a Science Channel television show. “Einstein has come out ahead every single time. However, this time you’re talking about the largest particle accelerator in the world registering a significant deviation in relativity.”

Columbia University physicist Brian Greene said he would “bet just about everything I hold dear that this won’t hold up to scrutiny.” But even if the results are confirmed, Einstein’s theories will need more of a patch than anything else, he said.

Ereditato agreed.

“When Einstein did his relativity, it didn’t destroy what Newton did. In fact, Newton explains 99.9 percent of what is happening around us. But still, in some special conditions of matter, you are forced to use special relativity,” Ereditato said. “Now suppose we would find one day that under extreme conditions you have to take into account corrections to what we know now. This doesn’t mean that Einstein’s wrong.”

And this is the glory of science, said Don Howard, who lectures on Einstein and heads the Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values at Notre Dame University. Experiments are allowed, even encouraged, to challenge pillars of science.

“Everything is up for grabs,” Howard said. “Even a genius like Einstein.”

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Borenstein reported from Washington.

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Online:

CERN site for neutrino project: http://bit.ly/nd9sm1