Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald back at it

McDonald awarded the 2016 Breakthrough award in Fundamental Physics

Image supplied by: Journal File Photo
Arthur McDonald‘s lab will split a $3-million prize with four others.

Queen’s Nobel Laureate Arthur McDonald has continued to receive recognition for his work at the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory laboratory (SNOLAB) — most recently winning the 2016 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics on Nov. 8. 

McDonald will split the $3-million prize with the four other international research groups studying neutrino oscillations. Three are located in Japan while the other is located in China.

The prize is one of three awarded by the Breakthrough Foundation for outstanding contributions in life sciences, fundamental physics and mathematics.

“[The donors of the prize money] really want to use these prizes to exhibit and publicize the highest quality science in the world and try thereby to interest young people and the general public in science and technology because they think that is very important for society,” Dr. McDonald told The Journal via email.

The Breakthrough Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 2012 by Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Jack Ma and Cathy Zhang, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.

According to the foundation’s website, the prizes aim to celebrate scientists and generate excitement about the pursuit of science as a career.

The prize has quickly gained recognition worldwide since its inauguration in 2012, primarily due to its support from Silicon Valley. It has received particularly strong support from Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook.

“The Breakthrough Prize is particularly valuable, as it recognizes by name the contributions of more than 270 scientists who have been authors on our scientific papers. All living members of that group share in a portion of the prize,” McDonald said.

The experiments conducted by the five research groups were the first to prove that neutrinos are capable of switching from one type to another. 

“From the very beginning of the project, it was clear that our results could have a major impact if we could only manage to build this very challenging detector and constrain the radioactivity levels more than had ever been done before,” McDonald said.

“Our scientists were very satisfied when we were able to complete the measurement,” McDonald said.

“We all knew that this was a very significant scientific result.”

SNOLAB is currently the deepest radioactivity major laboratory — located two kilometres below the earth — which provides researchers with many opportunities, McDonald said.

McDonald, along with the other winners of the Breakthrough award, visited Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s home for a congratulatory lunch. Zuckerberg went around the table questioning each winner on their experiments.



“Eventually everyone got into the discussion, and it became like any dinner party with very interesting and accomplished people present,” McDonald said.

McDonald says he’ll continue to work with Queen’s and other institutions on two experiments at SNOLAB.

“It is exciting to have cutting-edge experiments like this happening here in Canada and to be able to provide a high quality scientific education to our students as a result.”


Arthur McDonald, Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, SNOLAB

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