Janet Conrad’s work focuses on the lightest known particle of matter, the neutrino. The number of neutrinos in the universe far exceeds the number of atoms, yet we know surprisingly little about them. Only within the last decade have scientists realized these particles actually have mass—albeit a very tiny one—which represents the first chink in the longstanding and surprisingly resilient theory of particle physics called the Standard Model. Conrad is now exploring whether neutrinos have other unexpected properties and is working to develop an updated model for particle physics that incorporates these new surprises.
Conrad, a physics professor at MIT, is currently helping to develop the MicroBooNE experiment, which will use a state-of-the-art detector to chase after a mysterious effect witnessed in a previous experiment, MiniBooNE, on which she was co-spokesperson. The effect may indicate that there are more neutrino types than the three we have observed so far. The experiment will run in 2013 at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. She also collaborates on the Double Chooz experiment, which has caught a never-before-seen transmutation of anti-electron neutrinos from one type to another, and she is developing a new experiment to use high-power cyclotrons to search for differences in the behavior of neutrinos and antineutrinos. Conrad is a fellow of the American Physical Society and, in 2001, received its Maria Goeppert Mayer Award for her leadership in experimental neutrino physics.