Nobel Prize in Physics Awarded to 2 Scientists for Changing ‘Our Understanding of Matter,’ Possibly ‘Our View of the Universe’

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The portraits of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics Takaaki Kajita (L) and Arthur B McDonald are displayed on a screen during a press conference of the Nobel Committee to announce the winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics on Oct.r 6, 2015, at the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden. (Credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Two scientists have won the Nobel Prize in physics for groundbreaking work showing that neutrinos — electrically neutral subatomic particles — have mass, contrary to what had been thought.

The prize was awarded to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald, the Nobel Committee said, “for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass.”

Kajita works at the University of Tokyo, in Kashiwa, Japan. McDonald works at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Canada.

The Nobel Committee said the discovery — arcane to nonscientists — has changed our understanding of matter, and may yet change our view of the universe.”

“The Nobel Prize in Physics 2015 recognizes Takaaki Kajita in Japan and Arthur B. McDonald in Canada, for their key contributions to the experiments which demonstrated that neutrinos change identities,” the Nobel Committee’s statement said. “This metamorphosis requires that neutrinos have mass. The discovery has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter and can prove crucial to our view of the universe.”

Scientists say that neutrinos, because they interact weakly with other particles, can probe environments that other kinds of energy, such as light or radio waves, cannot penetrate.

Last year’s winners were two scientists in Japan and one at the University of California, Santa Barbara for helping create the LED light, a transformational and ubiquitous source that now lights up everything from our living rooms to our flashlights to our smart phones.

Since 1901, the committee has handed out the Nobel Prize in physics 108 times. The youngest recipient was Lawrence Bragg, who won in 1915 at the age of 25. The oldest physics laureate was Raymond Davis Jr., who was 88 years old when he was awarded the prize in 2002.

John Bardeen was the only physicist to receive the prize twice, for work in semiconductors and superconductivity.

In the coming days, the prize committee also will announce prizes in chemistry, literature, peace and economics.

On Monday, three scientists shared the Nobel prize for medicine for their work on parasitic diseases.

Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel created the prizes in 1895 to honor work in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. The economics prize, established in 1968 as a memorial to Nobel, was first awarded in 1969.