CERN’s Large Hadron Collider ranks among the top of the list when it comes to the most monumental technological feats in the history of human-kind. Since it was first blasted into operation, it has given us glimpse-after-glimpse into the weird and wonderful world of quantum physics. Now, researchers from CERN have revealed that one of the projects currently taking place at the Large Hadron Collider, called Beauty, has potentially witnessed something so extraordinary, it might bring about an entirely new kind of physics.
During the LHC Physics conference in New York City, the LHCb collaboration team stated that certain particles do not behave in ways explained in the Standard Model of Particle Physics; you can think of it as the holy grail of quantum mechanics. It aims to chart how the four forces interact with subatomic particles. It also gives us many predictions about the nature of particles in the quantum world. One such prediction says that particles that can be classified in the same group – particularly muons, electrons and taus; particles that belong to the lepton family – should not only behave in the same fashion, but that they should be created in equal amounts when the particles decay.
“The Standard Model doesn’t distinguish between muons and electrons in these decays,” says Tom Blake, from the Royal Society University Research Fellow: “As far as our equations are concerned, they are the same particle, so we should see them produced in near equal amounts.”
[Reference: Symmetry Magazine]
The team was surprised when the data they were pouring through showed that during the decay of b-quarks – particles that are known to decay into Hadrons almost immediately following their inception – instead of decaying as expected each and every single time, occasionally, they would decay into two leptons AND a hadron (clearly disobeying one of the main theoretical tenets of the Standard Model, which says they should spawn an identical number of electrons and muons). Moreover, they saw firsthand that electrons were being produced approximately 25 percent more often than their muon counterparts.
“If the Standard Model were a cake recipe, it would be like throwing all the ingredients for a chocolate cake into a bowl, baking it and then getting a vanilla cake out of the oven.” explained Ian O’Neill, from Discovery News. “Obviously there’s something not quite right with the cake recipe.”
These findings indicate that in addition to the already established forces, like the weak and strong nuclear force, gravity and electromagnetism – some unknown force is at work in the quantum world; one that could also alternatively be explained by a less extreme addition to the Standard Model. According to Michel De Cian (a postdoc from the University of Heidelberg), “If we continue to see this discrepancy, it could be evidence of a new particle—like a heavier cousin of the Z boson—interfering with the muon production.”
A while back, an international team of researchers (from the Belle collaboration in Japan and the BaBar collaboration at SLAC) noted that when viewing the same decay, the ratio of muon and electron creation was one-to-one, which reinforces the Standard Model’s prediction.
“It’s interesting but inconclusive,” De Cian says. “We don’t have a large enough statistical significance to make any claims yet.” So, we will have to wait until the Large Hadron Collider is back in action following its tech upgrade to probe the potential discovery further.
Either way, these findings aren’t the first that cast doubt on the veracity of the standard model and its predictions. No discovery along those lines can compete with the tetraquark; a four-quark particle that makes no sense in context of the standard model. It, like the preliminary findings announced about lepton decay, hint that there could be an entirely new kind of physics beyond the standard model just waiting to be explored.
Perhaps this new type of physics could circle back around to something called “supersymmetry” (most people associate it with string theory), which was pushed to the forefront of the news last year, when physicists noted similar abnormalities with the way in which B-mesons (these hadrons contain both a quark and an anti-quark) decay. It’s expected that a B-meson particle should decay into a kaon (K*) particle and two muons. Not only did the decays deviate from the expected formula, but the researchers made note that there seemed to be a non-random pattern in the angular distribution of their decay leftovers; deviations that again, do not follow standard model protocol.
Some physicists suggest that the two discrepancies – with the decay of the B-hadroms and the B-quarks – might be connected somehow by supersymmetry. “Supersymmetry (a.k.a. SUSY) is a theory beyond the Standard Model that predicts the existence of more massive “superpartner” particles for all normal particles — in this case a Z boson “superpartner” could be the source of the interference, throttling muon production,” O’Neill finished.
It’s hard to say at this point what all of these findings are alluding to, but it’s clear that the Large Hadron Collider (and its possible successor, The Very Large Hadron Collider) still has much work to do. (As if finding the Higgs Boson wasn’t hard enough, right?)