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Physical Sciences
Staff Awards & Honors

January 2016

PNNL Scientists Part of 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

Researchers honored for work done earlier in their careers on neutrinos

Breakthrough Prize

The 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics went to the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) Collaboration, including six researchers who are now at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, "for the fundamental discovery of neutrino oscillations, revealing a new frontier beyond, and possibly far beyond, the standard model of particle physics."

The lead researcher of the collaboration, Queen's University professor emeritus Arthur McDonald, represented the body of work in receiving the Nobel prize, but for the Breakthrough Prize, all of the more than 270 researchers were honored.

The six PNNL researchers honored with the Breakthrough Prize continue to work on a variety of physics questions. They are Laboratory Fellows Dick Kouzes and Andrew Hime, along with researchers Brent VanDevender, John Orrell, Allan Myers, and Bryan Fulsom.

"PNNL is extremely proud of our staff on the SNO team and for the recognition of their work with the Breakthrough Prize," said Lou Terminello, who is the acting Associate Laboratory Director for the Physical and Computational Sciences Directorate. "This is a wonderful achievement for the physicists at PNNL who support several of DOE's core missions, including fundamental physics. We congratulate them and the entire SNO team."

One of the six researchers now at PNNL, Dick Kouzes was the first to join up with SNO team. He worked with Art McDonald when they were both professors at Princeton University. They were conducting research at the observatory, which is located deep inside a nickel mine in Canada, just as the collaboration was getting off the ground.

Physicist Andrew Hime was at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1991 and built up a vital SNO research group. Although SNO's detector stopped collecting data in 2006, researchers are still using the data to learn new things.

"SNO definitively showed that neutrinos born in the sun changed their identity en route to the earth, a discovery that, in concert with other experiments sharing the Breakthrough prize, implies that neutrinos have non-zero rest masses," Hime said.

That profound discovery - that neutrinos change what type they are, which physicists call neutrino's "flavor" -- came about because SNO's detector could see neutrinos in a couple of different ways.

"We were working to resolve the solar neutrino puzzle," Hime said. "Physicists detected neutrinos that came from the sun, but fewer than expected based on how much the sun made. Either something funny was going on with neutrinos, or we didn't understand how the sun works."

Most neutrino detectors could only see one flavor, the electron-neutrino. SNO measured electron-neutrinos one way, and the sum total of neutrinos in a different way. Finding the missing neutrinos led them to realize that something funny was indeed going on with neutrinos.

"The smoking gun measurement from SNO demonstrated that the one type of neutrino made in the sun changed in flavor. There was no other experiment that could do that," said Hime.

Other PNNL researchers who worked on SNO include three from the University of Washington - Brent VanDevender, who did postdoctoral work there; John Orrell, who was working on his doctoral thesis; and Allan Myers. Bryan Fulsom worked on his master's degree in McDonald's group at Queen's University.

While the Nobel Prize honored key findings published from 2001 and 2002, the Breakthrough Foundation honored research through 2006 at SNO as well as another physics collaboration known as Kamioka. The award was presented at a ceremony at the NASA Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, California. The ceremony, hosted by comedian Seth Macfarlane, was broadcast live in the U.S. on National Geographic Channel.

Founded by Russian entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and physicist Yuri Milner, The Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes individuals who have made profound contributions to human knowledge. It is open to all physicists - theoretical, mathematical and experimental -- working on the deepest mysteries of the Universe. The prize is one of three awarded by the Breakthrough Foundation for "Outstanding contributions in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics, and Mathematics."


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