Janet Conrad

Professor of Physics
Searches for signatures of new particles, new forces and new symmetries using neutrinos from MeV to PeV energy scales.

Research Interests

My work focuses on the lightest known matter particles, the neutrino. Their number far exceeds the atoms in the universe. Yet we know surprisingly little about these particles. It is only recently, for example, that we came to realize these particles have mass, albeit very tiny. This became clear when neutrinos were shown to live a double life, transforming from one type into another through the quantum mechanical effect of neutrino oscillations. This effect requires neutrino mass.

Neutrino mass is the first “chink” in the surprisingly resilient theory of particle physics called The Standard Model. The purpose of my research is to exploit this opportunity through further study of neutrinos. Now that we know that neutrinos have surprising new properties, I am involved in tests to see if they have more unexpected “features”.

My studies using neutrinos as probes for new physics involve the BooNE experiments. The first generation of these experiments was the MicroBooNE Experiment at Fermilab, which searched for a new neutrino beyond the three types known in the Standard Model. This was motivated by an oscillation result from the Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) experiment at Los Alamos, which indicated an oscillation wavelength inconsistent with other experiments, perhaps pointing to the existence of a new neutrino species, called the sterile neutrino.

MiniBooNE detected an excess of events above the Standard Model expectation. However, crucial differences between this result and the sterile neutrino prediction based on LSND, has led us to build an even more sensitive detector, MicroBooNE, which is a state-of-the-art liquid Argon time projection chamber. The MicroBooNE detector, and its partner experiment, SBND, will have bubble-chamber-like resolution of particle tracks that now runs at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

At the same time, I am also involved in exploring the questions raised by LSND and MiniBooNE on the IceCube Experiment. This experiment, located at the South Pole, deep in the Antarctic ice, detects astrophysical neutrinos. It was originally constructed as a neutrino telescope. However, at this point, it is also a beautiful detector for particle physics. We are deeply involved in a sterile neutrino search using the IceCube data in the 700 GeV to 20 TeV range as well as other Beyond Standard Model searches. Soon the IceCube detector will be upgraded with additional detectors in the central region. We are actively participating in this upgrade, which will open more opportunities to search for new physics.

In the farther future, neutrino physics will need better neutrino sources in order to pursue precision studies of neutrino properties. To this end, my group also works on developing high power cyclotrons to drive decay-at-rest neutrino sources. Our projects in this area are called IsoDAR and DAEδALUS.

Janet Conrad explains how sterile neutrinos might help physicists move past the Standard Model.
Courtesy of Quanta Magazine | YouTube

Biographic Sketch

Janet Conrad received her B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1985, M.Sc. from Oxford University in 1987, and Ph.D. from Harvard in 1993. She began as a postdoctoral associate at Columbia University and was promoted to Assistant Professor in 1996. Most recently, she was the Walter O. Lecroy Professor of Physics at Columbia University.

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Awards & Honors

  • 2016 // Committed to Caring Honoree, MIT Office of Dean of Graduate Studies
  • 2014 // Amar G. Bose Fellowship
  • 2013 // American Physical Society CWSP Woman Physicist of the Month, August
  • 2009 // Guggenheim Fellow
  • 2005-08 // Columbia Distinguished Faculty Fellow
  • 2003 // American Physical Society Fellow
  • 2001 // Young Investigator, The New York City Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology
  • 2001 // Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award, American Physical Society
  • 2000 // Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow
  • 1999 // Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers
  • 1998 // NSF CAREER Award
  • 1996 // DOE Outstanding Junior Investigator
  • 1996 // NSF Career Advancement Award
  • 1991-92 // AAUW American Dissertation Fellowship
  • 1988 // Harvard Physics Dept. (K.T. Bainbridge) Award
  • 1986-87 // Keasbey Foundation Fellowship

Key Publications