Physics Frontline Blog

Dear Physics Frontline Reader,

We write to inform you that, as of May 6, 2016, the Physics Frontline blog will be suspended. The American Physical Society will continue to bring you information on the latest science policy news via a new webpage titled APS Policy Analysis.

We hope you’ll remain a dedicated reader. Please opt to continue receiving notification of posts regarding news and commentary at the intersection of physics & science policy by subscribing to the APS Policy Analysis RSS feed.

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Thank you for your continued support.

Tawanda W. Johnson
APS Press Secretary, American Physical Society
Email: tjohnson@aps.org | Phone: 202.662.8702

Scientists Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald Win Nobel Prize for Neutrino Research

The Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to scientists Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald for their research regarding the neutrino oscillations, leading to the discovery that the particles have mass.

APS News Writer Emily Conover covered the news in the story below:

The Nobel Prize in physics was awarded today for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, an observation that revealed the unusual behavior of these misfit particles, and indicated that neutrinos have mass. The prize honored two scientists who were instrumental in making the discovery: Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo, for his work on the Super-Kamiokande experiment, and Arthur McDonald of Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, for his work on the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) experiment.
Neutrinos, which are produced in a variety of nuclear reactions and were once thought to be massless, come in three types — electron, muon, and tau. But we now know that these identities, known as “flavors,” are not fixed. In a series of large-scale particle physics experiments performed deep underground, scientists showed that neutrinos oscillate from one flavor to another.

In 1998, the Super-Kamiokande experiment saw evidence of oscillation in muon neutrinos that are produced when cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s atmosphere. Physicists measured the number of muon neutrinos coming from directly overhead, and compared that to the number from below, which traversed a longer path — through the Earth — to reach the detector. They saw fewer muon neutrinos from below than expected, indicating that the neutrinos changed flavor during their long journey.

SNO clinched the case for oscillation in electron neutrinos produced by the sun. They observed the expected total number of neutrinos, but fewer electron neutrinos than predicted, indicating a flavor change. The prize honors the leaders of the two collaborations, who worked with their many colleagues to secure the results. On the phone during a press conference announcing the prize, McDonald emphasized the contributions of his collaborators, saying, “There’s great camaraderie associated with this work, even though it took many years working to try to accomplish it.”

APS President Sam Aronson said of the prize, “APS congratulates Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald on the Nobel Committee’s recognition of their important work on the behavior of neutrinos, and in particular the ability of the particles to change form, which indicates that neutrinos have mass. The discovery has major bearing on the structure of the universe as well as the physics of the nucleus.”

Takaaki Kajita (left) and Arthur McDonald
Takaaki Kajita (left) and Arthur McDonald

McDonald, an APS fellow, previously won the APS Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics in 2003. Kajita received the APS W.K.H. Panofsky Prize in Experimental Particle Physics in 2002.

A number of key papers from their groups were published in the APS journal Physical Review Letters and are free to read:

Gray Arrow Evidence for Oscillation of Atmospheric Neutrinos
Gray Arrow Measurement of the Rate of νe + d → p + p +e Interactions Produced by 8B Solar Neutrinos at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory
Gray Arrow Direct Evidence for Neutrino Flavor Transformation from Neutral-Current Interactions in the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory
Gray Arrow Physics offers a Landmark Focus article by PRL Editor Robert Garisto. Neutrinos Have Mass

LHeP2 featured on Amarillo NBC station

Liquid Helium Purchasing Program (LHeP2) enrollees are already experiencing the program’s benefits – more reliable and affordable liquid helium. And now word is starting to spread. Following a recent story in APS News, KAMR Local 4 News, the NBC affiliate in Amarillo (TX), reported on the program and its importance to LHeP2 participant Catherine Clewett, assistant professor of physics at West Texas A&M University. The TV report can be viewed here.

Visit the LHeP2 homepage to learn more about the program. Readers interested in joining the program should contact Mark Elsesser, APS senior policy analyst, by Sept. 25.

APS welcomes new STEM-Ed Fellow

APS is excited to welcome Ramon Barthelemy, the 2015 APS/AIP STEM-Ed Fellow, who will be working on STEM programs in the U.S. Department of Education. Ramon received his B.S. in 2010 in astrophysics from Michigan State University and Ph.D. in 2014 in science education from Western Michigan University. During the 2014-2015 academic year, he served as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, conducting research on gender issues in physics. Ramon has a long history of service within the physics community, most recently as a member of the AAPT Committee on Women, the APS Committee on LGBT Issues in Physics, and on the national working group for LGBT+ Physicists. He will begin his fellowship September 2015. The APS/AIP STEM-Ed Fellowship is a part of the AAAS Executive branch Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowships.

Comprehensive Senate Energy Bill Approved by Committee

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 with bipartisan support (18-4 vote) last week, after three days of markup and the approval of several amendments. Both Republicans and Democrats issued press releases.

Included in the comprehensive package were portions of Sen. Lamar Alexander’s “E-Competes Act,” which authorizes 4 percent annual increases for DOE’s Office of Science and ARPA-E for five years. Additionally, the bill directs DOE to establish at least two partnerships – between industry, academia and national laboratories – for the research and development of exascale computing.

Other provisions in the bill that may be of interest to APS members include:

  • Helium: The U.S. government would continue its exit from the helium business. The bill would grant to the lessee of a natural gas well “a right of first refusal to engage in exploration for, and the development and production of, helium on land that is subject to the lease…” An accepted amendment offered by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) would require that environmental reviews for helium-related projects be completed on an expeditious basis.
  • Critical Minerals: Lisa Murkowski’s American Mineral Security Act of 2015 is included in the legislation. This section of the bill would establish R&D programs to promote efficient production, use and recycling of critical minerals and to develop alternatives. It would also call for the U.S. Geological Survey to establish forecasting capabilities for critical mineral reliance, recycling, price, etc., although the focus would be largely domestic. Additionally, Murkowski aims to reduce permitting time with a number of new requirements to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the federal permitting and review processes.
  • Energy Efficiency: Both parties tout the bill’s provisions to improve energy efficiency, including a smart buildings initiative and provisions of Portman-Shaheen. However, the bill also repeals several measures, such as the residential energy efficiency standards study and the procurement and identification of energy efficient products program.

Although the bill passing out of committee marks the first step of broad energy policy reform in eight years, putting too much stock into the legislation reaching the president’s desk is premature. There is no timetable for the bill to be heard on the Senate floor, and intel suggests several senators would require additional amendments to secure their votes. Additionally, the House is working on its own, less comprehensive, energy bill.

The APS Office of Public Affairs continues to track legislation impacting its membership and to advocate for their interests.

From NPR’s Science Friday: Interns at national labs do real science

Summertime usually means a lot of internships for eager students across the country. In some cases,
they are relegated to menial tasks such as making copies, running errands and filing papers.
Not so at the national science laboratories.
NPR’s Science Friday produced a story on interns at Brookhaven National Laboratory where they are working on projects that affect solar cells and superconducting magnets, among other scientific topics.
Photo credit: NPR’s Science Friday
Read the story
ScienceFridayimage-summerinterns.