Photo of Frederick Reines

Frederick Reines

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For the experimental discovery of the free neutrino and the elucidation of its properties and interactions and the testing of fundamental conservation laws of physics.

Growing up, Frederick Reines loved building things. As a Boy Scout, he would build crystal radios. So it is only fitting, his interest in science would lead him to detect one of the building blocks of the universe — the neutrino.

Since the 1930s, physicists had predicted the existence of neutrinos — abundant subatomic particles with almost no mass that pass through matter with hardly any interactions. But neutrinos’ ghostly nature had prevented physicists from actually observing them.

In the midst of his work studying atomic and hydrogen bomb tests at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, Reines decided to observe a neutrino. Reines and his partner, Clyde Cowan, were finally able to detect them in 1956 using a nuclear reactor.

Reines’ observation of neutrinos opened up further research in particle physics. Scientists continue to study neutrinos today in hopes of gaining a better understand of the universe and why it is made up of matter and not antimatter.

By Jacob Kerr