skip to main content

Nobel laureate Arthur B. McDonald is third speaker in the J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series

April 11, 2017

Art McDonald
Arthur B. McDonald

The Virginia Tech College of Science concludes its J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series for the spring 2017 semester with Professor Arthur B. McDonald, a winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics and the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics.

McDonald is a professor emeritus of physics at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and director of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO) Collaboration. In an addition to the Nobel and the Breakthrough prizes, McDonald is the recipient of the 2007 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics, given by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.

He was co-winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics for experiments that showed neutrinos can change “identities” and therefore have mass. The research took place at the SNO lab, 1.2 miles underground inside a nickel mine. McDonald proved  neutrinos from the sun were not disappearing on their way to Earth and were captured with a different identity when arriving at SNO.

McDonald’s talk will take place 7:30 p.m., April 27 at 100 McBryde Hall. The event is free and open to the public. 

The talk will focus on SNO lab, one of the lowest radioactivity laboratories in the world, and ask such questions as: How does the Sun burn? What are dark matter particles? What are the properties of neutrinos, one of the fundamental building blocks of nature? And how do these particles influence how our universe evolves?

“Professor McDonald is one of the great innovators in experimental neutrino physics,” said Jonathan Link, a professor in the Department of Physics and director of the Center for Neutrino Physics, which is helping host the talk. “He led a project that was crucial to the development of our modern understanding of neutrinos.”

McDonald’s talk is the third of five in the Sowers lecture series for 2017. The series is funded by J. Mark Sowers, a Richmond, Virginia-based businessman and longtime supporter of the college. The series is designed to serve as a forum to exchange new and innovative ideas in scientific fields, including physics, nanotechnology, and neuroscience.

Previous speakers include David Reitze, physicist and executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Project at Cal Tech on Feb. 1, and Rice University nanoscientist Professor Naomi Halas, who spoke Feb. 23 on solar steam generation using nanoparticles.

Sowers said he has long been a fan of science, in particular physics, and funding the lecture series is an effort to share that love with others.

“I have very much enjoyed the two talks so far,” Sowers said. “I see the enthusiasm of the students. After each question-and-answer period, they all came up to ask even more questions. I hope that people will be inspired by the lecture series and to bring attention to Virginia Tech and its brilliant researchers for the advancement of fundamental physics.”

Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science, has said the lecture series “is part of our college vision of science excellence, discovery, diversity of both people and ideas, and Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech’s motto. Bringing these scientists to the New River Valley community is an excellent way to bring together our neighbors in a joint pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding.”

A program committee for the series is comprised of faculty from the college’s Department of Physics, the Academy of Integrated Science, and the School of Neuroscience at Virginia Tech. This group developed and recruited the guest lecturers for the 2017 series.

Upcoming guests in the 2017 lecture series, scheduled for the fall semester, are:

  • Nigel D. Goldenfeld, holder of the Center for Advanced Study Professorship and Swanlund Endowed Chair at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sept. 14; and
  • J. David Sweatt, chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, Sept. 26.

Related stories: 

Nanoscientist Naomi Halas second speaker in J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series

Scientist David Reitze kicks off J. Mark Sowers Distinguished Lecture Series