LSU Physicists’ Research Shares in Breakthrough Prize

2016 Breakthrough Prize researchersBATON ROUGE – LSU physicists Thomas Kutter, Martin Tzanov and William Metcalf are among the scientists sharing the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics announced on Nov. 8. The prize is 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 among five international experimental collaborations studying neutrino oscillations: The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, or SNO Collaboration, Super-Kamiokande, Kamland, T2K/K2K and Daya Bay scientific collaborations.

Kutter and his group of researchers from the LSU Physics & Astronomy Department are members of the SNO Collaboration. The experiment at the SNO Lab located 2 kilometers underground in Vale INCO’s Creighton mine near Sudbury, Ontario in Canada demonstrated that neutrinos change their type — or flavor — on their way from the sun to Earth, 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.

Tzanov and Metcalf together with Kutter and their team of LSU post-doctoral researchers and students, are also members of the T2K collaboration. T2K further explored neutrino oscillations using a man-made neutrino beam produced at an accelerator near Tokyo, Japan and measured 295 kilometers away in the deep underground Super-Kamiokande detector.

The LSU team designed and constructed central parts of the T2K near detector, which maps out the neutrino beam at the accelerator before it begins its trip to the distant Super-Kamiokande detector. Physicists at LSU continue to operate the experiment to collect data and make significant contributions to the data analysis to extract results on neutrino oscillations and other neutrino properties.

In addition to Kutter, Tzanov and Metcalf, former LSU Professor Robert Svoboda was a member of Super-Kamiokande and Kamland, and LSU students and post-doctoral researchers participated in four of the prize-winning experiments.

“It is fantastically interesting to study neutrino oscillations and explore nature’s secrets at the level of these fundamental particles,” Kutter said. “The Breakthrough Prize is a great recognition of the experimental achievements and the field as a whole. It is also very gratifying to see fundamental science attract significant public attention.”

“This is the second year in a row in which LSU physicists and astronomers have been participants in the basic experiments that have been awarded the prestigious Breakthrough Prize,” commented Michael Cherry, professor and chair of the LSU Physics & Astronomy Department. “Our students and faculty are doing work that has fundamental implications for science.”

The work of the SNO and Super-Kamiokande collaborations was also recognized recently by the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Professor Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo and Professor Arthur McDonald of Queens University in Canada, respectively.

“Our collaboration members are very pleased to receive this testimony to the scientific significance of their work,” said McDonald, SNO project director. “Our findings are a result of many years of hard work starting in 1984 when our collaboration began with 16 collaborators. Our international collaboration grew substantially and provided an exciting education for many young scientists over more than 20 years. Our full scientific author list includes more than 270 scientists sharing this prize.”

The Breakthrough Prize was presented at a ceremony at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. on Nov. 8. The ceremony, hosted by comedian Seth Macfarlane, is being broadcasted live in the U.S. on the National Geographic Channel at 8 p.m. CST, 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.”


Contact Mimi LaValle
LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy


Alison Satake
LSU Media Relations