British Empire honors MINOS scientist Jenny Thomas

Jenny Thomas

Neutrino scientist Jenny Thomas, co-spokesperson of Fermilab’s MINOS experiment and professor at University College London, was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to science.

The Order of the British Empire honors those who have performed charitable work, public service or distinguished service to the arts and sciences. The honors were created by King George V in 1917, and are given twice a year: on New Year’s Day and on the Queen’s birthday on June 11.

This year, Thomas is among 965 recipients of the British honors, 95 of whom have been named CBE. Other honorees include Nobel Prize winner Robert Edwards, who pioneered the field of in vitro fertilization, actor Colin Firth and singer and songwriter Bryan Ferry.

Thomas received a Ph.D. in particle physics from Oxford University in 1983. She began work on MINOS as a research officer at Oxford University in 1994.

At MINOS, Thomas and other collaborators study the phenomena of neutrinos changing from one type into another. Neutrinos, which exist in three flavors, or types, were once believed to be massless. Now, after 12 years of experimentation, scientists understand neutrinos to have a very small but non-zero mass.

Their small mass makes it impossible to weigh them in the laboratory. Instead, scientists watch them change, or oscillate, between the three different flavors across long distances, such as between the MINOS near detector at Fermilab and the experiment’s far detector in the Soudan Mine in Minnesota. Neutrino oscillations reveal information about their masses.

Thomas was part of a collaboration that made the world’s most precise measurement of the parameters that govern neutrino and antineutrino oscillations.

Thomas also spent several years serving as chair of the scientific committee that advised the United Kingdom’s Science & Technology Facilities Council on budgetary matters.

Thomas said she was taken aback when she first heard about the award and will look forward to receiving the honor, direct from the Queen herself.

“I think my mum is the most excited about it,” Thomas said.

Thomas will be honored later this year at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

— Christine Herman