Joseph Formaggio explores the properties of neutrinos, one of nature’s most elusive particles, and their deep connections to particle physics and cosmology. His work at the Sudbury Neutrino Obervatory, a thousand-ton detector in an underground nickel mine in Northern Ontario, helped solve a 40-year-old puzzle in nuclear physics by revealing that neutrinos from the sun oscillate between types and therefore have mass, contrary to previous assumptions. Now an associate professor at MIT, he is currently involved in the construction of the Karlsruhe Tritium Neutrino Experiment, or KATRIN, a next-generation experiment geared at directly measuring neutrino masses down to fractions of an electron volt. He is also developing a new technique that could eventually help detect “relic neutrinos”—ghost particles left over from the Big Bang that have never been directly observed.
Formaggio received his Ph.D. in physics from Columbia University, where his research focused on the search for exotic particles predicted by theoretical extensions of the standard model of particle physics. In 2001, he joined the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington, where he was later appointed as a research assistant professor. He has been at MIT since 2005.