The neutrino is among the cagiest of particles, a subatomic wisp so ephemeral it could pass through light-years of lead with more ease than a hot knife through butter. Despite its extraordinary abundance in the universe—billions pass through your body every second—this ghostly particle is notoriously difficult to trap, inspiring some of the most sophisticated detectors in science just to study it. A closer look could change everything. The elusive neutrino holds clues to some of the most profound questions in particle physics: What happened in the briefest moments after the Big Bang? Why does the universe contain more matter than antimatter? Join leading researchers as they chase neutrinos and other elusive particles in search of nature’s fundamental order.
This program is part of The Big Idea Series, made possible with support from the John Templeton Foundation.
Bill Weir is the executive producer, writer and host of The Wonder List with Bill Weir an acclaimed CNN original series in search of people and places, cultures and creatures on the brink of seismic change. Debuting in March 2015, the first season took viewers from Venice to Vanuatu, from the Alps to the Everglades, telling unforgettable stories shot in lush, cinematic style by London filmmaker Philip Bloom. Weir joined CNN in November 2013 as anchor and reporter after a decade of distinctive broadcast journalism at ABC News. After helping to launch the weekend edition of Good Morning America in 2004, Weir became co-anchor of Nightline in 2010 while his reporting was featured on World News with Diane Sawyer, Good Morning America, 20/20 and his own Yahoo! News digital series, This Could Be Big. In his network career, Weir journeyed to more than 50 nations and all 50 states, covering breaking news and uncovering global trends. He was among the first reporters into the floodwaters of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and Japan’s tsunami zone during the nuclear crisis of 2011. He dodged Taliban bullets in Afghanistan, led network coverage from Iraq and was the first American to broadcast live from Tibet. In 2012, he anchored ABC’s Summer Olympics coverage from London and brought unprecedented reporting from inside Apple’s Chinese factories. His live shots have come from atop the Golden Gate Bridge and below the waters of the Great Barrier Reef while his signature adventure reporting includes jumps from hot air balloons, hikes deep into the Amazon, and one fun night spent lashed to the side of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Before joining ABC News, Weir wrote and hosted projects for the FX and USA Networks and was an anchor/reporter in Los Angeles, Chicago, Green Bay and Austin, MN. He lives in New York with his wife, daughter and a four-pound dog named Burt. He sincerely believes he could escape from prison if the need ever arose.
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.
Francis Halzen has spent over 20 years working on telescopes that detect not light, but neutrinos—tiny, high-energy particles released by violent astronomical events like exploding stars, gamma-ray bursts and crashing black holes. Neutrinos act as messengers from those faraway galactic events, and observing them can help scientists better understand not only those phenomena but the identity of dark matter, the origins of cosmic rays and the behavior of neutrinos themselves.
In 1987, Halzen began developing a pilot project called the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detection Array, or AMANDA, a neutrino telescope buried more than a mile deep at the South Pole. The telescope was the first to use Antarctic ice to catch and detect muons, the heavier particles neutrinos turn into when they collide with hydrogen and oxygen in the ice. AMANDA paved the way for the IceCube Observatory, which uses more than 30 billion cubic feet of ice and is now the largest neutrino detector in the world.
Halzen, a physics professor and the director of the Institute for Elementary Particle Physics Research at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, has received Germany’s Helmholtz-Humboldt Research Award and honorary doctorates from Uppsala University in Sweden and the Technical University Munich, among many other awards. His essay “Antarctic Dreams,” about the early days of AMANDA, was featured in The Best American Science Writing 2000.
Lawrence Krauss is an internationally known theoretical physicist and best-selling author. His research focuses on the intersection of cosmology and elementary particle physics. Krauss’s work addresses questions about the origin of matter in the universe, Einstein’s theory of general relativity, astrophysics, the future of the universe, and the properties and description of the dark energy that is thought to account for most of the universe’s present energy content. A fervent advocate for science literacy, Lawrence Krauss has written nine books for a general audience, including the bestseller The Physics of Star Trek, and most recently A Universe from Nothing. He was recently awarded the National Science Board’s Public Service Award for his contributions to public understanding of science. Krauss is foundation professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University.
The fundamentals of foundational hip-hop pulsate vibrantly through the veins of the multi-dimensional artist, John Robinson. This native New Yorker has sojourned and resided in the underground scenes of New York, New Jersey, Atlanta and Los Angeles with the result of creating a sound that is universally magnetic to hip-hop audiences of various backgrounds. Robinson AKA Lil Sci of the World Renowned UNDERGROUND Hip-Hop group Scienz of Life rekindles his alter-ego to audio-biographically introduce his new chiseled personality that spits nothing less than lyrical perfection. Inspired by hip-hop legends such as KRS-1, Slick Rick, Brand Nubian and KMD to name a few, He has been rocking mics since before he had peach fuzz. These same legends helped Robinson to mold himself to a scientific sort of political advisor that enjoys speaking to audiences both en masse and one person at a time. And having performed with the likes of The Roots, Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, Dead Prez, Run DMC, MF DOOM and many others nationally and internationally (i.e. Italy, Switzerland, Germany, UK, Sweden, France, Japan, South Africa and more) John Robinson is a proven performance aficionado. If that weren’t enough this super energetic emcee, well seasoned in the marketing side and the creative side of urban music has deal with the business hands on. As the President of Indie label Shaman Work Recordings for several years, Robinson has learned more than a handful about this business and definitely plans to share the Gems.
In a world of rancidly-stale excuses for music, this visionary brings forth a musical healing that is probably one of the reasons hip-hop hasn’t plunged into the bottom of the sea. And with a catalogue of more than 10 full length albums and various releases that date back to 1996 Debuting officially on Bobbito Garcia’s Fondle’em Records with his group Scienz of Life, it’s a definite blessing to the world, that John Robinson rhymes. Upon indulging in his music, listeners will be swept away by the soulfully rich tracks, stitched to Robinson’s warm and melodic utterances of messages as down to earth as Studio One style reggae music but cutting edge and ahead of it’s time. The ultimate performer, this Aries dragon isn’t just a lyricist but a producer and future music business mogul as well, and he uses each of these talents to concoct a musical package that stands to be heralded as a top-flight hip-hop classic. Just call him the Jazz Cat whose instrument happens to be a microphone!