The Nobel prize: signs of physics to come

The Nobel prize is regarded by many as the ultimate prize in science.

Sure, there is always going to be a controversy every few years, an argument about which breakthrough should be recognised, or who should be the the named one, two or three. But take a step back and we see that the Nobel prize is a general representation of major scientific changes that genuinely affect the lives of ordinary people, albeit often years later, and in ways that aren’t always obvious.

This year we saw Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B McDonald take the limelight with the discovery of neutrino oscillations. What will come of that? How will it affect the every day? I don’t know, but did the first physics Nobel laureate Wilhelm Röntgen know what his Röntgen rays (X-rays) would end up being used for?

Inside the Super-Kamiokande detector.

Inside the Super-Kamiokande detector.

Perhaps we’ll see what happens with neutrinos sooner than we think. Neutrinos reveal the only effects yet observed that do not conform to the current version of the standard model. For that reason and their possible link to dark matter, they are a hot topic with huge research efforts placed into understanding them more. Well, you’ve got to be keen to build a telescope under the ice of Antarctica (Ice Cube), or  2.5Km under the Mediterranean ocean (ANTARES).

There are dozens of other neutrino physics programs checking things out. KATRIN. CUORE. T2K. Daya BayJUNO, just to start. The phenomenal determination and effort to find out more about these ghostly particles can only accelerate where we go from here. If the discovery leads to world changing advances even close to that of some previous Nobels, we could be in for a very interesting future indeed. Just look at your smartphone or computer screen – the 2014 Nobel physics prize (and others before!) in action.

For now though we have to make do with pure physics, and we can help with that. Go on, learn a bit more about neutrino oscillation on us, courtesy of the laureates.

CC-BY logoThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License

Image: from Discovery of neutrino oscillations, Takaaki Kajita 2006 Rep. Prog. Phys. 69 1607. Copyright IOP Publishing Ltd 2006.

Categories: Journal of Physics G: Nuclear and Particle Physics

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2 replies


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