In 1930, the great physicist Wolfgang Pauli did something that “no theorist should ever do”: he invented a new particle that he thought nobody could ever detect in order to save the principle of energy conservation in certain radioactive decays he was studying. Pauli’s impossible particle turned out to be real: the neutrino, a particle that one of its discoverers called “the most tiny quantity of reality ever imagined by a human being”.
This lecture will chart the fascinating history and science of neutrinos, from their discovery in 1956 to the role they played in understanding solar physics. We will see that neutrinos are today hunted for in the depths of the Antarctic ice cap, shot through the crust of the Earth and observed in huge water tanks under miles of rock. They are revealing the physics of distant supernovae, helping understand dark matter and might hold the key to the Big Bang itself.