For the young post doctoral physicist, it was a moment of high drama.
Jocelyn Monroe, just eight years out of college, stood in a lecture hall in MIT’s Building 35 before more than 50 people in her field. Those scientists, who had anticipated the results for a decade, were waiting to hear whether she and her colleagues had punched a hole in the basic theory of the universe’s ingredients.
If Monroe announced that the research team she’d worked on had confirmed the existence of a tiny piece of matter known as a sterile neutrino, scientists might be compelled to re-think the standard model of physics, a deeply logical arrangement of the 12 known sub atomic particles (including neutrinos) and the forces governing them. What had been clear and orderly about the universe could become more hazy and messy.
If no evidence for the sterile neutrino existed, however, scientists could continue their work without having to account for any strange, new paradigm-disturbing particle.
“Remember this moment,” MIT physicist Peter Fisher told Monroe, “because you may only have one chance in your career to tear down the standard model.”