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Neutrino Experiments Light the Way to New Physics

Neutrinos, the strangest beasts in the particle zoo, may soon open the way to unexplored realms

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Few physicists have had the privilege of bringing a new elementary particle into the world. When Wolfgang Pauli hit on the idea of the neutrino in 1930, however, internal misgivings tempered his response. “I have done a terrible thing,” Pauli later told his colleagues. “I have postulated a particle that cannot be detected.”

The neutrino is indeed elusive—its ghostly nature allows it to slip through almost all physical barriers, including the materials that physicists use in their particle detectors. In fact, most neutrinos pass cleanly through the earth without so much as brushing against another particle. Yet Pauli's fears turned out to be slightly overblown: the neutrino can be detected—although doing so requires great effort and experimental ingenuity.

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