SMU physicist Thomas Coan talked with KERA about the neutrino, an elusive fundamental particle that scientists are working to understand using one of the most powerful physics experiments in the world.

KERA public radio 90.1 hosted SMU physicist Thomas E. Coan on Krys Boyd‘s “Think” program Oct. 29. Coan and Boyd discussed neutrinos, one of the most elusive particles in the Standard Model’s “particle zoo.”

Neutrinos are the subject of the NOvA experiment, with the goal to better understand the origins of matter and the inner workings of the universe.

One of the largest and most powerful neutrino experiments in the world, NOvA is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

At the heart of NOvA are its two particle detectors — gigantic machines of plastic and electronic arrays. One detector is at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago and the other is at Ash River, Minn. near the Canadian border.

Designed and engineered by about a hundred U.S. and international scientists, NOvA is managed by Fermilab. NOvA’s detectors and its particle accelerator officially start up the end of October 2014.

Coan, an associate professor in the SMU Department of Physics, is a member of the NOvA experiment. He is co-convener of NOvA’s calibration and alignment group, guiding a crew of international scientists who handle responsibility for understanding the response of NOvA’s detector when it is struck by neutrinos.

Neutrinos are invisible fundamental particles that are so abundant they constantly bombard us and pass through us at a rate of more than 100,000 billion particles a second. Because they rarely interact with matter, they have eluded scientific observation.

Listen to the podcast Tiny Particles, Big Impact.

Follow on twitter at @smuresearch.

SMU is a nationally ranked private university in Dallas founded 100 years ago. Today, SMU enrolls nearly 11,000 students who benefit from the academic opportunities and international reach of seven degree-granting schools. For more information see

SMU has an uplink facility located on campus for live TV, radio, or online interviews. To speak with an SMU expert or book an SMU guest in the studio, call SMU News & Communications at 214-768-7650.