Canadians have good reason for pride in the awarding of this year’s Nobel Prize in physics to Arthur McDonald for a breakthrough that, in the words of prize officials, “changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter”.
Another student of Koshiba – University of Tokyo professor Yoji Totsuka, who died in 2008 – was central to the research that won Kajita the Nobel Prize.
Three scientists from Ireland, Japan and China won the Nobel Prize in medicine on Monday for discovering drugs against malaria and other parasitic diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people every year.
The 2015 Nobel Prizes are being announced this week and next.
The University of Tokyo said in a statement congratulating Kajita that he was one of the students of 2002 Nobel physics victor Masatoshi Koshiba, who also has contributed to Japan’s neutrino research. McDonald, 72, is a professor emeritus at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada.
There are three kinds, or flavors, of neutrinos and the laureates showed they oscillate from one flavor to another, dispelling the long-held notion that they were massless.
“The universe where we live in is still full of unknowns”, he said.
The Standard Model is the name given to the prevailing particle physics theory that describes fundamental particles and how they interact.
Kajita seemed flummoxed at a news conference organized by his university. It takes a lot of people and a long time. It helps to go that deep to measure neutrinos as they stream through the universe, otherwise signal “clutter” from other sources makes them exceedingly hard to trace. He says of the Nobel, “I think of it as an award that I’m the representative of the Merck Company’s research team”.
The work “really inspired a whole global community of scientists to drop what they were doing and try to understand the neutrino”, he said.
Kajita worked on spotting those so-called neutrino oscillations at the Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan, perhaps the best-named facility in all of science.
His original underground lab – located two kilometers below the surface in an old mine near Sudbury, Ontario where he experimented with neutrinos – has tripled in size and is now experimenting with dark matter particles.
Speaking on Canada’s public broadcaster CBC, McDonald said his work on the particles could be used for “measuring the fusion reactions that power the Sun”.
Neutrinos having mass might not mean much to you and me, but to physicists it was an exciting find. The winners will share the 8 million Swedish kronor (about $960,000) prize money with one half going to Campbell and Omura, and the other to Tu.
In 2012, Chinese author Mo Yan became the first Chinese national to win a Nobel prize – aside from dissident Liu Xiaobi, victor of the 2010 Peace Prize, who is in prison.
The laureates will receive their prizes at formal ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of Alfred Nobel.