Brookhaven National Lab and the Nobel Prize
Photo of Schwartz in front of spark chamber

Melvin Schwartz in front of the spark chamber used to conduct the prize-winning research.


Discovery of the Muon-Neutrino

The 1988 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to a trio of researchers for their 1962 discovery of the muon-neutrino, based on work conducted at Brookhaven. Leon Lederman, Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger, at the time all of Columbia University, made their discovery at the brand-new Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS). At the time, only the electron-neutrino was known, and the scientists wondered if they could find more types of these ghostlike particles that pass through everything. The AGS, then the most powerful accelerator in the world, was capable of producing the beam needed.

The experiment used a beam of the AGS's energetic protons to produce a shower of pi mesons, which traveled 70 feet toward a 5,000-ton steel wall made of old battleship plates. On the way, they decayed into muons and neutrinos, but only the latter particles could pass through the wall into a neon-filled detector called a spark chamber. There, the impact of neutrinos on aluminum plates produced muon spark trails that could be detected and photographed -- proving the existence of muon-neutrinos.

The experiment's use of the first-ever neutrino beam paved the way for scientists to use these particles in research at the AGS and around the world.

Melvin Schwartz was a former Brookhaven Associate Director for High Energy and Nuclear Physics.