The Online Beacon

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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Unveiling the Invisible: MCLA Physics Professor’s Research Makes Waves in the World of Science


In the labyrinth of particle physics, where the tiniest components of the universe hide their secrets, Dr. Emily Maher, a luminary Physics Professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), stands as a beacon of discovery. Her recent groundbreaking research, conducted in collaboration with the MINERvA team at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), has not only pierced the veil of the unseen but also earned accolades as one of the Top 10 Physics Breakthroughs of 2023 by Physics World.

Over a span of ten years, the MINERvA experiment embarked on a quest to unravel the mysteries of neutrinos and antineutrinos, the ethereal particles that traverse the cosmos almost undetected. Dr. Maher and her colleagues embarked on an ambitious endeavor: to capture the interactions of these elusive particles with matter, particularly protons, the fundamental building blocks of the atomic nucleus.

In Dr. Maher’s words, “We work to uncover and understand nature’s smallest building blocks.” Her passion for unraveling the mysteries of the universe is palpable, as she describes the awe-inspiring process of using particle accelerators spanning miles to observe something as minuscule as a proton. “No human has even been able to make this measurement before,” she marvels, emphasizing the unprecedented nature of their achievement.

For research to earn a coveted spot among the year’s top breakthroughs, it must meet stringent criteria: publication within the preceding year, significant advancements in knowledge, and implications for scientific progress or real-world applications. Led by Tejin Cai of the University of Rochester and Canada’s York University, the study delves into the intricate dance of neutrinos scattering off a plastic target, offering profound insights into the internal structure of protons.

Central to the success of their endeavor was an innovative approach that Dr. Maher describes as “isolating the signal from neutrinos scattered off lone protons within the background of those scattered off protons bound in carbon nuclei.” Through meticulous simulation and subtraction of background noise from experimental data, the researchers unveiled a clearer picture of neutrino interactions, illuminating the enigmatic realm of particle physics.

Dr. Maher’s journey into the realm of neutrino research spans over two decades, beginning with her groundbreaking work on the tau neutrino at Fermilab in 2000. Reflecting on her lifelong fascination with these elusive particles, she shares, “Neutrinos continually surprise us and point us to new physics.” Her unwavering commitment to exploration and discovery embodies the ethos of MCLA, where educators are dedicated to nurturing intellectual curiosity and fostering a spirit of inquiry.

At MCLA, academic excellence is synonymous with inclusivity and empowerment. Recognized as a Top Ten College by U.S. News and World Report for ten of the last twelve years, MCLA stands as a testament to the transformative power of education. With a steadfast commitment to equitable academic excellence, MCLA empowers students to become leaders and innovators, poised to make meaningful contributions to society.

In her extensive career spanning over two decades, Dr. Emily Maher’s fascination with neutrinos has been a driving force. Her pioneering work began in 2000 at Fermilab, where she contributed to the DONuT (Direct Observation of Nu Tau) experiment, marking the world’s first direct observation of the tau neutrino. This early success laid the foundation for her subsequent research endeavors, culminating in the recent breakthrough recognized by Physics World.

In conclusion, Dr. Emily Maher’s groundbreaking research not only pushes the boundaries of scientific knowledge but also embodies the spirit of curiosity and exploration that defines MCLA’s academic community. As we celebrate this momentous achievement, we reaffirm our commitment to fostering a vibrant intellectual ecosystem where the pursuit of knowledge knows no bounds and where every student is empowered to realize their full potential.

For more information about MCLA and its commitment to academic excellence, visit the college’s website


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Karen Yamada, Staff Writer

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