THE BLOG
01/16/2014 07:33 pm ET Updated Mar 18, 2014

Top Science Stories in 2013?

At the end of last year, as usual, everyone started putting out their top 10 stories of 2013. I am particularly interested in what people consider the top stories in science. The Huffington Post put their top 10 science stories out here. These are the ones that got the most readers. I was pretty disconcerted but not too surprised to find out that the most popular story was about an Indiana University study about average penis size. There was also something more along my area of particle physics, talking about comments made at a scientific meeting by theorist Joseph Lykken, who predicts a finite lifespan of the universe based on the mass of the Higgs boson. The 2013 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to theorists Higgs and Englert for their prediction of the Higgs boson in the 1960s, which was confirmed by the experimental discovery by the CMS and ATLAS collaborations in 2012. Lykken posits that if no new physics beyond the standard model of particle physics is found, and with the current mass of the Higgs boson, the universe resides in a metastable state and will die in about 1 billion years. As an experimental physicist I find his comments stimulating, but they don't keep me up at night.

I was much more interested in what was actually discovered last year. By the way, I am also more interested in watching actual football games and hearing about their scores than predictions of who will win a particular game or which teams will get which players in the draft. One can check Scientific American's top 10 science stories of 2013. Here you can find one relating to particle physics at number 6. There are great mysteries surrounding the energetic particles that bombard us from space, including neutrinos. Neutrinos are particles with very tiny masses that barely interact. For instance, there are approximately 65 billion neutrinos per second passing through each square centimeter of you from the Sun alone. We also believe that there are super-energetic neutrinos that can reach us from outside our solar system. In order to detect neutrinos, one needs to create a big detection volume, as the probability of interaction is small. A large neutrino detector located at the South Pole has been constructed. It's called IceCube, and it uses the Antarctic ice sheet as the detector. Last year the IceCube collaboration reported seeing 28 neutrinos that had so much energy that they had to have come from outside our solar system. Part of the excitement is that new techniques for observing neutrinos are now working to see these energetic neutrinos, so further discoveries will soon come. At the University of Kansas, we have helped instrument the ice with radio receivers to look for these neutrinos. As the Scientific American article said, it's "an advance that heralds the start of a new era in astronomy -- the era of seeing with particles, not just light."