This year’s Nobel Prize for Physics underscores the need to study the nature of neutrino, but imagined fears and unfounded allegations are thwarting Indian efforts in that direction, writes R. Ramachandran in the The Hindu Frontline.
SINCE the beginning of the year, neutrino, that elusive fundamental particle, has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons. Activists and political opportunists have together stalled a major Indian initiative to build a world-class underground neutrino research laboratory by invoking fears of harmful impacts of the project, including dangerous radioactive fallout, pollution of water bodies and geological impact on dams.
The laboratory, called the India-based Neutrino Observatory (INO), is proposed to be housed inside a tunnel to be dug in a kilometre-high mountain at the Bodi hills near Pottipuram village in Theni district in Tamil Nadu. The Rs.1,500 crore project is held up following a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Madras High Court and a petition to the Southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (“Neutrino scare”, Frontline, March 6, 2015).
Now neutrino is back in the news, not just national but international. But this time it is for the right reason. The Nobel Prize in Physics for this year has been awarded for the discovery of strange quantum mechanical properties of this mysterious particle. The discovery has helped resolve a four-decade-old problem in solar astronomy and has pointed to the incompleteness of the current theory of the fundamental constituents of matter and the forces of interaction among them, thus emphasising the importance of continued neutrino research for a fuller understanding of the nature of the universe.
The 56-year-old Japanese physicist, Takaaki Kajita, and the 72-year-old Canadian physicist, Arthur B. McDonald, have been jointly awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in physics “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”. To understand this Nobel citation, some description of the physics of neutrinos is necessary.