Penn Physicists Share in 2016 Breakthrough Prize

The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) Collaboration, which includes physicists from the University of Pennsylvania, have 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 km 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.

The University of Pennsylvania group, currently including Professors Eugene Beier and Joshua Klein, began working on the SNO project in 1987. The Penn contributions included constructing specialized electronic instrumentation for the detector’s 9600 photo-sensors, and leading both the detector operations and the data analysis for the project.  Over the time that SNO made its measurements, the Penn group included twenty-three scientists and a large number of undergraduate students. 

The award was presented at a ceremony November 8 at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The ceremony, hosted by comedian Seth Macfarlane, was broadcast live in the U.S. on 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 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.”