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Three UNC physicists worked on project that earned Nobel Prize

Posted October 6, 2015 12:25 p.m. EDT

— Three physicists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were a part of the research team for Canadian scientists Arthur B. McDonald, one of two men awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics Tuesday morning.

McDonald, of Queens University in Ontario, and Takaaki Kajita, of the University of Tokyo, were recognized for their key contributions to experiments which demonstrated that neutrinos, a sub-atomic particle, change identities.

Three members of UNC's Department of Physics and Astronomy – John Wilkerson, Reyco Henning and Mark Howe – worked on the project with McDonald before coming to UNC.

Wilkerson was involved in the project first as a staff member at Los Alamos National Laboratory and later as a professor at the University of Washington. He served as the group leader for the group that designed, built and operated the systems by which researchers gathered data for the project.

Henning worked on the project as a post-doctoral fellow, participating in the analysis group that studied Sudbury Neutrino Observatory’s ability to do non-neutrino physics. He also contributed to on-site operations of SNO.

Howe was one of the primary developers of the SNO Hardware and Real-time Control (SHaRC) data acquisition system, which was responsible for controlling many of SNO’s subcomponents and also collecting and storing the data. Howe also provided significant on-site support for data-acquisition operations.

By uncovering the "chameleon-like" nature of neutrinos, McDonald and Kajita solved a long-standing puzzle in particle physics that could alter our grasp of the cosmos, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

"The discovery has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and can prove crucial to our view of the universe," the academy said.