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Research on neutrinos results in third Nobel Prize

Neutrino work has resulted in the third Nobel prize for three separate groups of scientists. The award this year was given to two scientists whose work suggests that neutrinos have mass. Previously, researchers believed neutrinos were massless.

"Giant prominence on the sun erupted" by NASA/SDO/AIA/Goddard Space Flight Center - http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/rbsp/news/third-belt.html. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

The 2015 winners for the Nobel Prize in Physics have been announced. Early Tuesday morning Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald learned that they were selected for one of the world’s most prestigious science awards for their work on neutrinos, ghost-like particles that emanate from the sun and other stars. This year’s winners mark the third set of scientists to nab a Nobel Prize for work related to neutrinos.

More specifically, McDonald and Kajita discovered that neutrinos can switch from one type to another, which suggests that these tiny sub-atomic particles must have mass. Previously, neutrinos were thought to be mass-less. Their work was a fundamental breakthrough for understanding one of the Universe’s most mysterious particles, and helped advance human understanding of not only neutrinos, but also dark matter and dark energy.

Both scientists were working separately to prove the same point. McDonald found that neutrinos which were thought to be disappearing before they reached Earth were actually changing type. Kajita proved that the neutrinos actually could change type on their journey from the sun to the Earth.

Each second humans are bombarded by billions neutrinos, yet for reasons not yet fully understood, these neutrinos don’t seem to interact with us, or any matter at all. This lack of interaction with the rest of the matter in the universe is part of why neutrinos fascinate scientists so much.

Neutrinos are currently believed to be the second most common type of known particle in the universe, and come in three different types. The three types are electron neutrino, muon neutrino and tau neutrino, and as already mentioned.

McDonald and Kajita’s researched proved that they could switch types. Researchers have quite literally gone to extreme depths to find these hard-to-detect particles, having set up massive detection tools deep underground.

Since the particles are emerging from the sun basically untouched, and traveling across the rest of the solar system, or even universe when the neutrinos originate in other stars, they afford scientists and opportunity to peer into the inner workings of stars.

For more information on neutrinos, check out this Youtube video.

McDonald and Kajita’s achievement follows on the heels of the award for the Nobel Prize for Medicine. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded on Monday, and was given to three researchers for their work on fighting parasitic diseases.

The three researchers awarded the prize were William C. Campbell, an American-Irish dual citizen, and Satoshi Omura, from Japan, as well as Tu Youyou of China.

Campbell and Omura worked together to create Ivermectin, an important medicine that has treated millions of people suffering from “river blindness”. Dr. Tu, on the other hand, developed Artemisinin, which is used to treat Malaria.