How Neutrinos, which Barely Exist, Just Ran Off with another Nobel Prize

Neutrinos take patience. They’re worth it, and the announcement of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics recognizes that, following related prizes in 1988 and 2002. Ironically, these near-undetectable particles can reveal things that cannot be seen any other way.

I could begin by telling you that neutrinos are elementary particles, but that sounds condescending. They’re not called elementary because they’re easy to understand — they aren’t — but because they are seemingly point-like in size, and we can’t break them down into smaller constituents. There’s no such thing as half a neutrino.

The smallest things in the universe

Atoms, despite the Greek name (“cannot be cut”), are not elementary particles, meaning they can be disassembled. An atom is a diffuse cloud of electrons surrounding a tiny, dense nucleus composed of protons and neutrons, which can be broken into up and down quarks

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