The 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Arthur B. McDonald of Queen’s University in Canada and Takaaki Kajita of the University of Tokyo on Tuesday. The scientists were honored for determining that the subatomic particles neutrinos do have mass.

Takaaki Kajita, Arthur McDonald Awarded Nobel Prize In Physics

Of note, neutrinos are the second most common subatomic particles in the universe, after light-carrying photons. Neutrinos had been theorized since the ground-breaking research of Wolfgang Pauli and Enrico Fermi in the 1930s, but were only confirmed in the late 1950s and still relatively little is known about the mysterious particles today.

Statement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics

“The discovery has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and can prove crucial to our view of the universe,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted in a statement on Tuesday announcing the award of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

“For particle physics, this was a historic discovery,” the statement continued. “Its Standard Model of the innermost workings of matter had been incredibly successful, having resisted all experimental challenges for more than 20 years. However, as it requires neutrinos to be massless, the new observations had clearly showed that the Standard Model cannot be the complete theory of the fundamental constituents of the universe.”

Details on neutrino research

Of note, a neutrino carries no electric charge and had been assumed for decades to have no mass at all. Kajita and McDonald’s Nobel prize research showed that there are actually three “flavors” of neutrinos, and they can oscillate from one type to another, in effect changing identities as they traveled through the atmosphere or through space from the sun to Earth. This ability to oscillate state makes it clear that neutrinos do indeed have mass.

Keep in mind that the universe is apparently full of neutrinos that were created in the Big Bang, and many more are constantly created in nuclear reactions on Earth and in the thermonuclear reactions that drive our sun and all the other suns/stars across the universe.

Neutrinos are ubiquitous, they constantly pass through the earth and human bodies as they continue their three-state cosmic journey. The knowledge that neutrinos are capable of changing states, and that they have mass, will benefit astrophysicists and cosmologists in coming to grips with the evolution of the universe as well as solar fusion. This new Nobel prize winning discovery may even play into improvements in the designs of fusion reactors as research in the field progresses.

More on Nobel prize winners Arthur B. McDonald and Takaaki Kajita

Dr. McDonald first presented data 15 years ago showing that neutrinos from the sun were not disappearing, but merely changing “disguises” as they traveled to Earth. The team on the project captured neutrinos for the research with a highly sensitive new particle detector located  6,800 feet below ground at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Northern Ontario, which is part of Queen’s University in Kingston.

Dr. Kajita and other researchers reported in 1998 that they had discovered that neutrinos passing through the atmosphere switched between two different identities on their way to their Super-Kamiokande particle detector, a massive device built close to two-thirds of a mile below the surface of the planet.