Penn Team Shares in 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Collaboration, which includes physicists from the University of Pennsylvania, shared the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

The Prize was presented by the Breakthrough Prize Foundation “for the fundamental discovery of neutrino oscillations, revealing a new frontier beyond, and possibly far beyond, the standard model of particle physics.” The $3 million prize is shared with four other international experimental collaborations studying neutrino oscillations: The Super-Kamiokande, KamLAND, T2K/K2K and Daya Bay scientific collaborations.

The research at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, 2 kilometers underground in the Vale Creighton mine near Sudbury, Ontario, demonstrated that neutrinos change their type, or “flavor,” on their way to Earth from the sun, a discovery that requires neutrinos to have a mass greater than zero. The results also confirmed the theories of energy generation in the sun with great accuracy, solving a decades-old question known as the Solar Neutrino Problem.

“Our collaboration members are very pleased to receive this testimony to the scientific significance of their work,” said Arthur McDonald of Queens University, the SNO project director and 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. “Our findings are a result of many years of hard work.”  

The University of Pennsylvania group, led by Eugene Beier, professor in the School of Arts & Science’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, began working on the SNO project in 1987. The Penn contributions included constructing specialized electronic instrumentation for the detector’s 9,600 photo sensors and leading both the detector operations and the data analysis for the project. During the time that SNO made its measurements, the Penn group included 23 scientists and a large number of undergraduate students.

“The Penn team was an exceptional group of people who made major contributions to this important science,” said Penn SNO team member Joshua Klein, also a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “We are happy to have been a part of solving a problem that was older than many of the group members.”

The award was presented at a ceremony Nov. 8 at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. The ceremony was broadcast live in the United States on the National Geographic Channel, with a one-hour version of the broadcast scheduled for Fox on Nov. 29, at 7 p.m.

Founded by Russian entrepreneur, venture capitalist and physicist Yuri Milner, the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics recognizes people 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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