Oct. 10, 2002
Vol. 22 No. 2

current issue
archive / search

    Former University Research Associate wins physics Nobel

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    The University of Tokyo’s Masatoshi Koshiba, who shares the 2002 Nobel Prize in physics, honed his scientific skills as a Research Associate in the Enrico Fermi Institute’s cosmic ray group from 1955 to 1958.

    Koshiba returned to the Institute in the Fall Quarter of 1989 to serve as a Distinguished Visiting Professor. While at Tokyo, he has collaborated with Institute members on the OPAL (Omni Purpose Apparatus at the Large Electron-Positron Accelerator) experiment in Switzerland.

    Koshiba shares the Nobel with Raymond Davis Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania and Riccardo Giacconi of Associated Universities Inc. of Washington, D.C.

    The Nobel Foundation cited Koshiba “for pioneering contributions to astrophysics, in particular for the detection of cosmic neutrinos,” which are subatomic particles emitted by the sun and other celestial objects.

    Koshiba’s hallmark is “to prepare experiments that are really bold and audacious,” said James Pilcher, Fermi Institute Director and Professor in Physics and the College.

    One such experiment, the Super-Kamiokande, led to his Nobel Prize and was built to detect proton decay, Pilcher said. Instead, Koshiba and his team found the first neutrinos emitted from exploding stars and from the sun. They also found evidence for oscillating neutrinos, which turn into other types of particles as they travel.

    “Ray Davis’ experiment only saw 30 percent of the expected number of neutrinos coming from the sun,” Pilcher said. “One explanation would be that these neutrinos were turning into something else. Koshiba showed that this is possible.”

    Three of this year’s Nobel laureates have previously received honorary degrees from the University: Sydney Brenner in 1976, Giacconi in 1983 and Davis in 2000. Brenner will receive a share of the 2002 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his research regarding the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death.