The Forgotten Physics Experiment

Vital work by scientists leads to one of the most important physics experiments in history.
Karin Heineman, Executive Producer

(Inside Science) -- “I've been doing history and philosophy of physics for some 40 years now and that's what I continue to do,” said Allan Franklin from the University of Colorado.

“Most of my work has been on experimental physics and most of it, experimental particle physics. I do have one experiment, which I love, because people don’t remember it and should. It's by Ellis and Wooster in 1927, and it doesn’t get mentioned very much in physics books, physics textbooks. And it should be remembered, because it led to an important -- the experiment led to Wolfgang Pauli, a theorist, introducing the idea of the neutrino which, of course, has become part of the furniture of the world.

“Well, there are two ways in which one can talk about the neutrino, in terms of Fermi's theory of beta decay, which involved the neutrino. And then there's a later experiment by Reines and Cowan and their collaborators that directly detected the neutrino,” said Franklin.

The neutrino experiment was performed in 1956. Confirming the existence of the anti-neutrino -- a neutrally charged subatomic particle with almost no mass and no electric charge. They’re little blips of almost nothing. They’re often called ghost particles.

Although you can’t see them, they’re one of the most abundant particles in the universe, but only about one neutrino from the sun will interact with your body during your lifetime.

They may be ghostlike particles floating around us, but they’re one of the universe’s crucial ingredients, playing an important role in helping scientists understand some fundamental questions in physics. 

Editor's Note: The text of this article was updated on Dec 22, 2017 at 4:15 PM to remove an incorrect statement concerning the rate of solar neutrinos arriving on Earth.  

Author Bio & Story Archive

Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV.