Should the Nobel Prize for shape-shifting neutrinos have also gone to Soviet scientists?

Scientists looking at the first collisions pictures at full power at the CMS experience control room at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland. Source: EPA

Scientists looking at the first collisions pictures at full power at the CMS experience control room at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland. Source: EPA

EPA
Almost 30 years ago Soviet scientists were already studying the neutrino effects that this year's Nobel-winners observed.

Last week the Nobel prize in physics was awarded to Takaaki Kajita from Japan, and Arthur B. McDonald from Canada, for the discovery of neutrino oscillations between different `flavors' in flight.

Kajita and McDonald observed the shape-shifting effects, presuming the existence of neutrinos with mass. It was the effects, identified by Russian scientists, that helped to visualize the experiment. 

One of the effects that Kajita observed was suggested by Soviet physicist, Bruno Pontecorvo. Another, the MSW effect, was theoretically studied by Smirnov and his colleague, Stanislav Mikheyev, at the Institute of Nuclear Research in Russia. 

The MSW is an effect in which a neutrino of one type changes into another in the atmosphere of an electron's variable density, in particular inside the Sun. It was predicted in 1978 by American physicist, Lincoln Wolfenstein. 

In fact, the MSW effect was named after Mikheyev, Smirnov and Wolfenstein, taking the initials of their last names. The scientists were nominated for the Nobel Prize, but did not win.

Aleksey Smirnov. Source: Personal archive

"I am a theorist," Smirnov told RBTH. "The Nobel prize was awarded exclusively for experimental work and I believe this is completely fair. I personally know both winners and am amazed by the work they've done. Moreover, several years ago I personally nominated them for the prize.''

In the general description of Kajita's and McDonald's work, the Nobel committee mentioned the contribution of the Russian theorists.

Mikheyev and Wolfenstein are no longer alive. Since 1992 Alexey Smirnov has worked at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Italy, as well as in Heidelberg, Germany at the Max Plank Institute for Nuclear Physics. Professor Smirnov has received several awards for his theoretical studies of the neutrino, including the Bruno Pontecorvo Prize (Russia) and the Sakurai Prize (U.S.).

According to Professor Smirnov, neutrino research will in the future help conduct tomographies of the Earth, which will be useful for studying the subsoil, and also help us to understand the structure of the Universe.

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