Fundamentals of physics in question after new particle experimentVish Gainon April 8, 2022 at 10:53 Silicon RepublicSilicon Republic

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A new measurement of the weight of a sub-atomic particle, the W boson, has baffled physicists all over the world after it was found to be heavier than predicted in the standard model theory that’s explained how the universe works for almost half a century.

Developed in the early 1970s, the standard model of particle physics explains how the basic building blocks of matter interact, governed by four fundamental forces: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong and weak.

Since its inception, the standard model has successfully explained almost all experimental results and precisely predicted a wide variety of phenomena. Its veracity was cemented in 2012 when scientists used the Large Hadron Collider in Europe to discover the long-predicted Higgs boson, also known as the ‘God particle’.

The model has been far from perfect, however. Most notably, it leaves out one of the four forces, gravity, and does not account for dark matter which likely constitutes most of the universe.

But now, a new study measuring the mass of the W boson published in the Science journal yesterday (7 April) has scientists questioning the very fundamentals of the standard model – and the discrepancy could hint to more particles in our universe waiting to be discovered.

‘There is something new in nature’

A team of around 400 scientists looking at old data collected from the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, commonly referred to as Fermilab, has found the weight of the W boson to differ from its predicted mass “by seven times the experimental uncertainty”, according to Science magazine.

Based on a decade of work and with data fed from the Tevatron collider near Chicago that was active until 2011, the study directly contradicts with earlier estimations of the particle’s mass made Fermilab.

“All these measurements claim to measure the same quantity,” Martin Grünewald, an experimental physicist at University College Dublin, told Science. “Somebody must be, I will not say wrong, but maybe made a mistake or pushed the error evaluation too aggressively.”

But Ashutosh Kotwal, who led the study published in the Science journal yesterday (7 April), is certain the updated measurement is accurate. “We are confident in the techniques we have used. It is a distinct possibility that there is something new in nature that the standard model does not capture,” he told the journal.

Almost exactly a year ago, new evidence emerging from Fermilab suggested that a tiny subatomic particle called muon could break the known laws of physics (and with it the standard theory), hinting at the existence of a fifth force of nature.

All eyes are now on the Compact Muon Solenoid detector based in the Large Hadron Collider which hopes to publish its own revised measurement of the W boson early next year.

Prof David Toback, who is the project co-spokesperson, told BBC News that the “shocking” results could lead to the development of an entirely new and more plausible theory of how the universe works, considering new data.

“If the results are verified by other experiments, the world is going to look different. There has to be a paradigm shift,” he said. “The hope is that maybe this result is going to be the one that breaks the dam.”

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