Physics Nobel Prize Awarded for Paradigm Shaking Work

Super Kamiokande — light detectors in the subterranean Japanese neutrino observation chamber. (Image: Screenshot/YouTube)
Super Kamiokande — light detectors in the subterranean Japanese neutrino observation chamber. (Image: Screenshot/YouTube)

The latest Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to two scientists for their work on neutrinos. Their discoveries have shaken up the world of physics, and will continue to make waves for the unforeseeable future.

Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald are the lucky recipients of the highest recognition for their research on subatomic particles, more known as neutrinos. Until recently, it was uncertain whether neutrinos had a mass or none at all.

Scientists from the University of Tokyo and Queen’s University in Kinston, Canada, won the prize for their outstanding discovery of “neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass.”

Apparently, the Nobel committee was intrigued by Kajita’s and McDonald’s discovery, because it showed that neutrinos can alter their identities and this discovery, they further added, had “changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter, and can prove [something] crucial to our view of the universe.”

The discovery has profound implications for the future evaluation of the current so-called “standard model” of physics. Kajita and McDonald discovered in experiments that particles are smaller than atoms (neutrinos), which were thought to have gone missing, had actually changed identities.

Until recently, physicists had believed that neutrino particles had no mass. However, the recent discovery indicates that they must have a mass, which would mean our prevailing model of physics — and the way it explains the fundamental building blocks of the universe — is incomplete.

Aside from making an astounding discovery, the two Nobel Prize awarded scientists might have also solved a long-standing mystery in the field of astrophysics. While analyzing neutrinos reaching the Earth from the Sun, McDonald and his team verified a process going on inside the Sun’s core.

The knowledge derived from this analysis could further promote the practical application in development of nuclear fusion. If successful, nuclear fusion could one day replace nuclear fission, our current method of generating electrical energy, and it would also be a more environmentally friendly solution.

Watch this video that explains fission versus fusion:

According to head of the Deparment of Physics and Astronomy at University College London, Professor Jon Butterworth, Kajita and McDonald’s work “solved the long-standing solar neutrino problem, which was one of the things we were taught as students, as being a weird anomaly — which wasn’t understood — not enough neutrinos coming from the Sun.”

According to a Guardian article, Butterworth further stated the two scientists’ discoveries were opening many doors in the world of physics: “The discovery opened up a whole field of neutrino physics, which is still producing amazing science.”

In the past, the Nobel prize in physics was awarded such scientists as Albert Einstein, Paul Dirac, and Werner Heisenberg.

The only two women in history to win a Nobel Prize in physics were Marie Curie and Maria Goeppert Mayer.

Marie Curie won the award in 1903 for her work on radiation, while Maria Goeppert was awarded the prize in 1963 for her work on nuclear shell structure.

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