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IU South Bend, IU Bloomington have connections to Nobel Prize in physics

Oct. 21, 2015

IU South Bend and IU Bloomington both have connections to the recent announcement that Arthur MacDonald of Queen’s University in Ontario and Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo will share the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Mark Messier and Young-Kee Kim

IU's Mark Messier, right, and Young-Kee Kim, former deputy director at Fermilab, during the construction of the NOvA detector in 2012. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MARK MESSIER

IU South Bend physics professor Ilan Levine worked with MacDonald in Canada for several years immediately before joining the faculty in 2002. In addition, the results on atmospheric neutrino oscillations cited from the Super-Kamiokande detector in Japan were the subject of IU Bloomington physics professor Mark Messier’s Ph.D. thesis.

Levine was co-author with MacDonald and other members of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory team of two papers, published in 2001 and 2002 in the journal Physical Review Letters, that were instrumental in showing that the enigmatic subatomic particles called neutrinos have mass.

Levine recalled that he contacted MacDonald in the 1990s, wanting to be part of a team that was doing path-breaking work on solving problems involving the nature of neutrinos. MacDonald arranged for him to help with the group that had to protect the SNO detector from background radioactivity and measure the radioactivity that got past protections.

“My relationship with him was and still is a combination of awe and warmth,” Levine said. “This man was on top of every technical aspect of a very complex huge apparatus buried in a deep mine … He has always been generous to me personally with his time and advice.”

At the time Levine joined the McDonald research team, physicists had begun trying to solve the “solar neutrino problem,” the mystery of why the flow of neutrinos measured as coming from the Sun to the Earth was only about one-third of the expected rate.

The Sudbury experiment devised a way to show that solar neutrinos were not disappearing on their way to the Earth but were instead being converted from one type of neutrino to another. The finding led to the conclusion that neutrinos have mass, however small -- a development that upended the Standard Model and produced new questions about the workings of matter.

Levine worked full-time at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory from 1997 to 2002. He remained part of the collaboration after joining the IU South Bend faculty and published with members of the Sudbury team as recently as last year.

Messier is now co-lead scientist on the $278 million NOvA project, an international collaboration of nearly 210 scientists and engineers from 39 universities, laboratories and institutions around the world to investigate the behavior of neutrinos.

In addition, the IU Bloomington physics department hosts one of the largest groups doing neutrino research in the U.S., with work further investigating neutrinos and mass at Fermilab, a massive particle accelerator near Chicago funded by the U.S. Department of Energy; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory.

Levine and Messier's work aligns with several priorities in the university's Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including catalyzing research and a vibrant community of scholars.

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