Correspondence | Published:

Don't forget the steps that led physics to where it is

Naturevolume 444page146 (2006) | Download Citation



In your News story “Neutrinos make a splash in Italy” (Nature 443, 126; 2006), you highlight a project, “first sketched out 25 years ago”, to attempt to discover whether neutrinos have mass.

As president of the National Institute for Nuclear Physics from 1977 to 1983, what I presented to the Italian authorities 27 years ago, far from being a 'sketch', was a full project. It had a set of scientific goals, including the neutrino oscillations from the 'artificial' source located at the CERN particle-physics lab, where, in the early 1960s, the search for the third lepton was intensively carried out using the hypothesis of the third neutrino, now called 'tau', but originally called 'heavy lepton neutrino'. This is the neutrino which, as envisaged in the original proposal, will be the result of the 'oscillation' from the neutrinos beamed underground from CERN and searched for at Gran Sasso with the OPERA detector.

The scientific programme for the Gran Sasso project was so complete when first proposed that, even now, no new item has been added. An additional detail not reported in your news story is that the best detector working at Gran Sasso is at present the Large Volume Detector set up to study cosmic neutrinos — a powerful liquid scintillator and tracking device, which has been in full operation for more than 10 years. A detailed study of the time correlation and of the neutrino beam structure indicates that the neutrino beam works exactly as designed.

“Without memory there is no civilization and no physics,” as Enrico Fermi used to say.

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  1. National Institute for Nuclear Physics, Via Enrico Fermi, 40-00044 Frascati, Rome, Italy

    • Antonino Zichichi


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