What comes after the LHC? – The P5 Report & Future Colliders

This is the second part of our coverage of the P5 report and its implications for particle physics. To read the first part, click here

One of the thorniest questions in particle physics is ‘What comes after the LHC?’. This was one of the areas people were most uncertain what the P5 report would say. Globally, the field is trying to decide what to do once the LHC winds down in ~2040 While the LHC is scheduled to get an upgrade in the latter half of the decade and run until the end of the 2030’s, the field must start planning now for what comes next. For better or worse, big smash-y things seem to capture a lot of public interest, so the debate over what large collider project to build has gotten heated. Even Elon Musk is tweeting (X-ing?) memes about it.

Famously, the US’s last large accelerator project, the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), was cancelled in the ’90s partway through its construction. The LHC’s construction itself often faced perilous funding situations, and required a CERN to make the unprecedented move of taking a loan to pay for its construction. So no one takes for granted that future large collider projects will ultimately come to fruition.

Desert or Discovery?

When debating what comes next, dashed hopes of LHC discoveries are top of mind. The LHC experiments were primarily designed to search for the Higgs boson, which they successfully found in 2012. However, many had predicted (perhaps over-confidently) it would also discover a slew of other particles, like those from supersymmetry or those heralding extra-dimensions of spacetime. These predictions stemmed from a favored principle of nature called ‘naturalness’ which argued additional particles nearby in energy to the Higgs were needed to keep its mass at a reasonable value. While there is still much LHC data to analyze, many searches for these particles have been performed so far and no signs of these particles have been seen.

These null results led to some soul-searching within particle physics. The motivations behind the ‘naturalness’ principle that said the Higgs had to be accompanied by other particles has been questioned within the field, and in New York Times op-eds.

No one questions that deep mysteries like the origins of dark matter, matter anti-matter asymmetry, and neutrino masses, remain. But with the Higgs filling in the last piece of the Standard Model, some worry that answers to these questions in the form of new particles may only exist at energy scales entirely out of the reach of human technology. If true, future colliders would have no hope of

A diagram of the particles of the Standard Model laid out as a function of energy. The LHC and other experiments have probed up to around 10^3 GeV, and found all the particles of the Standard Model. Some worry new particles may only exist at the extremely high energies of the Planck or GUT energy scales. This would imply a large large ‘desert’ in energy, many orders of magnitude in which no new particles exist. Figure adapted from here

The situation being faced now is qualitatively different than the pre-LHC era. Prior to the LHC turning on, ‘no lose theorems’, based on the mathematical consistency of the Standard Model, meant that it had to discover the Higgs or some other new particle like it. This made the justification for its construction as bullet-proof as one can get in science; a guaranteed Nobel prize discovery. But now with the last piece of the Standard Model filled in, there are no more free wins; guarantees of the Standard Model’s breakdown don’t occur until energy scales we would need solar-system sized colliders to probe. Now, like all other fields of science, we cannot predict what discoveries we may find with future collider experiments.

Still, optimists hope, and have their reasons to believe, that nature may not be so unkind as to hide its secrets behind walls so far outside our ability to climb. There are compelling models of dark matter that live just outside the energy reach of the LHC, and predict rates too low for direct detection experiments, but would be definitely discovered or ruled out by high energy colliders. The nature of the ‘phase transition’ that occurred in the very early universe, which may explain the prevalence of matter over anti-matter, can also be answered. There are also a slew of experimentalhints‘, all of which have significant question marks, but could point to new particles within the reach of a future collider.

Many also just advocate for building a future machine to study nature itself, with less emphasis on discovering new particles. They argue that even if we only further confirm the Standard Model, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Though we calculate Standard Model predictions for high energies, unless they are tested in a future collider we will not ‘know’ how if nature actually works like this until we test it in those regimes. They argue this is a fundamental part of the scientific process, and should not be abandoned so easily. Chief among the untested predictions are those surrounding the Higgs boson. The Higgs is a central somewhat mysterious piece of the Standard Model but is difficult to measure precisely in the noisy environment of the LHC. Future colliders would allow us to study it with much better precision, and verify whether it behaves as the Standard Model predicts or not.

Projects

These theoretical debates directly inform what colliders are being proposed and what their scientific case is.

Many are advocating for a “Higgs factory”, a collider of based on clean electron-positron collisions that could be used to study the Higgs in much more detail than the messy proton collisions of the LHC. Such a machine would be sensitive to subtle deviations of Higgs behavior from Standard Model predictions. Such deviations could come from the quantum effects of heavy, yet-undiscovered particles interacting with the Higgs. However, to determine what particles are causing those deviations, its likely one would need a new ‘discovery’ machine which has high enough energy to produce them.

Among the Higgs factory options are the International Linear Collider, a proposed 20km linear machine which would be hosted in Japan. ILC designs have been ‘ready to go’ for the last 10 years but the Japanese government has repeated waffled on whether to approve the project. Sitting in limbo for this long has led to many being pessimistic about the projects future, but certainly many in the global community would be ecstatic to work on such a machine if it was approved.

Designs for the ILC have been ready for nearly a decade, but its unclear if it will receive the greenlight from the Japanese government. Image source

Alternatively, some in the US have proposed building a linear collider based on a ‘cool copper’ cavities (C3) rather than the standard super conducting ones. These copper cavities can achieve more acceleration per meter than the standard super conducting ones, meaning a linear Higgs factory could be constructed with a reduced 8km footprint. A more compact design can significantly cut down on infrastructure costs that governments usually don’t like to use their science funding on. Advocates had proposed it as a cost-effective Higgs factory option, whose small footprint means it could potentially hosted in the US.

The Future-Circular-Collider (FCC), CERN’s successor to the LHC, would kill both birds with one extremely long stone. Similar to the progression from LEP to the LHC, this new proposed 90km collider would run as Higgs factory using electron-positron collisions starting in 2045 before eventually switching to a ~90 TeV proton-proton collider starting in ~2075.

An image of the proposed FCC overlayed on a map of the French/Swiss border
Designs for the massive 90km FCC ring surrounding Geneva

Such a machine would undoubtably answer many of the important questions in particle physics, however many have concerns about the huge infrastructure costs needed to dig such a massive tunnel and the extremely long timescale before direct discoveries could be made. Most of the current field would not be around 50 years from now to see what such a machine finds. The Future-Circular-Collider (FCC), CERN’s successor to the LHC, would kill both birds with one extremely long stone. Similar to the progression from LEP to the LHC, this new proposed 90km collider would run as Higgs factory using electron-positron collisions starting in 2045 before eventually switching to a ~90 TeV proton-proton collider starting in ~2075. Such a machine would undoubtably answer many of the important questions in particle physics, however many have concerns about the extremely long timescale before direct discoveries could be made. Most of the current field would not be around 50 years from now to see what such a machine finds. The FCC is also facing competition as Chinese physicists have proposed a very similar design (CEPC) which could potentially start construction much earlier.

During the snowmass process many in the US starting pushing for an ambitious alternative. They advocated a new type of machine that collides muons, the heavier cousin of electrons. A muon collider could reach the high energies of a discovery machine while also maintaining a clean environment that Higgs measurements can be performed in. However, muons are unstable, and collecting enough of them into formation to form a beam before they decay is a difficult task which has not been done before. The group of dedicated enthusiasts designed t-shirts and Twitter memes to capture the excitement of the community. While everyone agrees such a machine would be amazing, the key technologies necessary for such a collider are less developed than those of electron-positron and proton colliders. However, if the necessary technological hurdles could be overcome, such a machine could turn on decades before the planned proton-proton run of the FCC. It can also presents a much more compact design, at only 10km circumfrence, roughly three times smaller than the LHC. Advocates are particularly excited that this would allow it to be built within the site of Fermilab, the US’s flagship particle physics lab, which would represent a return to collider prominence for the US.

A proposed design for a muon collider. It relies on ambitious new technologies, but could potentially deliver similar physics to the FCC decades sooner and with a ten times smaller footprint. Source

Deliberation & Decision

This plethora of collider options, each coming with a very different vision of the field in 25 years time led to many contentious debates in the community. The extremely long timescales of these projects led to discussions of human lifespans, mortality and legacy being much more being much more prominent than usual scientific discourse.

Ultimately the P5 recommendation walked a fine line through these issues. Their most definitive decision was to recommend against a Higgs factor being hosted in the US, a significant blow to C3 advocates. The panel did recommend US support for any international Higgs factories which come to fruition, at a level ‘commensurate’ with US support for the LHC. What exactly ‘comensurate’ means in this context I’m sure will be debated in the coming years.

However, the big story to many was the panel’s endorsement of the muon collider’s vision. While recognizing the scientific hurdles that would need to be overcome, they called the possibility of muon collider hosted in the US a scientific ‘muon shot‘, that would reap huge gains. They therefore recommended funding for R&D towards they key technological hurdles that need to be addressed.

Because the situation is unclear on both the muon front and international Higgs factory plans, they recommended a follow up panel to convene later this decade when key aspects have clarified. While nothing was decided, many in the muon collider community took the report as a huge positive sign. While just a few years ago many dismissed talk of such a collider as fantastical, now a real path towards its construction has been laid down.

Hitoshi Murayama, chair of the P5 committee, cuts into a ‘Shoot for the Muon’ cake next to a smiling Lia Merminga, the director of Fermilab. Source

While the P5 report is only one step along the path to a future collider, it was an important one. Eyes will now turn towards reports from the different collider advocates. CERN’s FCC ‘feasibility study’, updates around the CEPC and, the International Muon Collider Collaboration detailed design report are all expected in the next few years. These reports will set up the showdown later this decade where concrete funding decisions will be made.

For those interested the full report as well as executive summaries of different areas can be found on the P5 website. Members of the US particle physics community are also encouraged to sign the petition endorsing the recommendations here.

The P5 Report & The Future of Particle Physics (Part 1)

Particle physics is the epitome of ‘big science’. To answer our most fundamental questions out about physics requires world class experiments that push the limits of whats technologically possible. Such incredible sophisticated experiments, like those at the LHC, require big facilities to make them possible,  big collaborations to run them, big project planning to make dreams of new facilities a reality, and committees with big acronyms to decide what to build.

Enter the Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel (aka P5) which is tasked with assessing the landscape of future projects and laying out a roadmap for the future of the field in the US. And because these large projects are inevitably an international endeavor, the report they released last week has a large impact on the global direction of the field. The report lays out a vision for the next decade of neutrino physics, cosmology, dark matter searches and future colliders. 

P5 follows the community-wide brainstorming effort known as the Snowmass Process in which researchers from all areas of particle physics laid out a vision for the future. The Snowmass process led to a particle physics ‘wish list’, consisting of all the projects and research particle physicists would be excited to work on. The P5 process is the hard part, when this incredibly exciting and diverse research program has to be made to fit within realistic budget scenarios. Advocates for different projects and research areas had to make a case of what science their project could achieve and a detailed estimate of the costs. The panel then takes in all this input and makes a set of recommendations of how the budget should be allocated, what should projects be realized and what hopes are dashed. Though the panel only produces a set of recommendations, they are used quite extensively by the Department of Energy which actually allocates funding. If your favorite project is not endorsed by the report, its very unlikely to be funded. 

Particle physics is an incredibly diverse field, covering sub-atomic to cosmic scales, so recommendations are divided up into several different areas. In this post I’ll cover the panel’s recommendations for neutrino physics and the cosmic frontier. Future colliders, perhaps the spiciest topic, will be covered in a follow up post.

The Future of Neutrino Physics

For those in the neutrino physics community all eyes were on the panels recommendations regarding the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). DUNE is the US’s flagship particle physics experiment for the coming decade and aims to be the definitive worldwide neutrino experiment in the years to come. A high powered beam of neutrinos will be produced at Fermilab and sent 800 miles through the earth’s crust towards several large detectors placed in a mine in South Dakota. Its a much bigger project than previous neutrino experiments, unifying essentially the entire US community into a single collaboration.

DUNE is setup to produce world leading measurements of neutrino oscillations, the property by which neutrinos produced in one ‘flavor state’, (eg an electron-neutrino) gradually changes its state with sinusoidal probability (eg into a muon neutrino) as it propagates through space. This oscillation is made possible by a simple quantum mechanical weirdness: neutrino’s flavor state, whether it couples to electrons muons or taus, is not the same as its mass state. Neutrinos of a definite mass are therefore a mixture of the different flavors and visa versa.

Detailed measurements of this oscillation are the best way we know to determine several key neutrino properties. DUNE aims to finally pin down two crucial neutrino properties: their ‘mass ordering’, which will solidify how the different neutrino flavors and measured mass differences all fit together, and their ‘CP-violation’ which specifies whether neutrinos and their anti-matter counterparts behave the same or not. DUNE’s main competitor is the Hyper-Kamiokande experiment in Japan, another next-generation neutrino experiment with similar goals.

A depiction of the DUNE experiment. A high intensity proton beam at Fermilab is used to create a concentrated beam of neutrinos which are then sent through 800 miles of the Earth’s crust towards detectors placed deep underground South Dakota. Source

Construction of the DUNE experiment has been ongoing for several years and unfortunately has not been going quite as well as hoped. It has faced significant schedule delays and cost overruns. DUNE is now not expected to start taking data until 2031, significantly behind Hyper-Kamiokande’s projected 2027 start. These delays may lead to Hyper-K making these definitive neutrino measurements years before DUNE, which would be a significant blow to the experiment’s impact. This left many DUNE collaborators worried about its broad support from the community.

It came as a relief then when P5 report re-affirmed the strong science case for DUNE, calling it the “ultimate long baseline” neutrino experiment. The report strongly endorsed the completion of the first phase of DUNE. However, it recommended a pared-down version of its upgrade, advocating for an earlier beam upgrade in lieu of additional detectors. This re-imagined upgrade will still achieve the core physics goals of the original proposal with a significant cost savings. With this report, and news that the beleaguered underground cavern construction in South Dakota is now 90% complete, was certainly welcome holiday news to the neutrino community. This is also sets up a decade-long race between DUNE and Hyper-K to be the first to measure these key neutrino properties.

Cosmic Implications

While we normally think of particle physics as focused on the behavior of sub-atomic particles, its really about the study of fundamental forces and laws, no matter the method. This means that telescopes to study the oldest light in the universe, the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), fall into the same budget category as giant accelerators studying sub-atomic particles. Though the experiments in these two areas look very different, the questions they seek to answer are cross-cutting. Understanding how particles interact at very high energies helps us understand the earliest moments of the universe, when such particles were all interacting in a hot dense plasma. Likewise, by studying the these early moments of the universe and its large-scale evolution can tell us about what kinds of particles and forces are influencing its dynamics. When asking fundamental questions about the universe, one needs both the sharpest microscopes and the grandest panoramas possible.

The most prominent example of this blending of the smallest and largest scales in particle physics is dark matter. Some of our best evidence for dark matter comes analyzing the cosmic microwave background to determine how the primordial plasma behaved. These studies showed that some type of ‘cold’, matter that doesn’t interact with light, aka dark matter, was necessary to form the first clumps that eventually seeded the formation of galaxies. Without it, the universe would be much more soup-y and structureless than what we see to today.

The “cosmic web” galaxy clusters from the Millenium simulation. Measuring and understanding this web can tell us a lot about the fundamental constituents of the universe. Source

To determine what dark matter is then requires an attack from two fronts: design experiments here on earth attempting directly detect it, and further study its cosmic implications to look for more clues as to its properties.

The panel recommended next generation telescopes to study the CMB as a top priority. The so called ‘Stage 4’ CMB experiment would deploy telescopes in both the south pole and Chile’s Atacama desert to better characterize sources of atmospheric noise. The CMB has been studied extensively before, but the increased precision of CMS-S4 could shed light on mysteries like dark energy, dark matter, inflation, and the recent Hubble Tension. Given the past fruitfulness of these efforts, I think few doubted the science case for such a next generation experiment.

A mockup of one of the CMS-S4 telescopes which will be based in the Chilean desert. Note the person for scale on the right (source)

The P5 report recommended a suite of new dark matter experiments in the next decade, including the ‘ultimate’ liquid Xenon based dark matter search. Such an experiment would follow in the footsteps of massive noble gas experiments like LZ and XENONnT which have been hunting for a favored type of dark matter called WIMP’s for the last few decades. These experiments essentially build giant vats of liquid Xenon, carefully shield from any sources of external radiation, and look for signs of dark matter particles bumping into any of the Xenon atoms. The larger the vat of Xenon, the higher chance a dark matter particle will bump into something. Current generation experiments have ~7 tons of Xenon, and the next generation experiment would be even larger. The next generation aims to reach the so called ‘neutrino floor’, the point as which the experiments would be sensitive enough to observe astrophysical neutrinos bumping into the Xenon. Such neutrino interactions would look extremely similar to those of dark matter, and thus represent an unavoidable background which would signal the ultimate sensitivity of this type of experiment. WIMP’s could still be hiding in a basement below this neutrino floor, but finding them would be exceedingly difficult.

A photo of the current XENONnT experiment. This pristine cavity is then filled with liquid Xenon and closely monitored for signs of dark matter particles bumping into one of the Xenon atoms. Credit: XENON Collaboration

WIMP’s are not the only dark matter candidates in town, and recent years have also seen an explosion of interest in the broad range of dark matter possibilities, with axions being a prominent example. Other kinds of dark matter could have very different properties than WIMPs and have had much fewer dedicated experiments to search for them. There is ‘low hanging fruit’ to pluck in the way of relatively cheap experiments which can achieve world-leading sensitivity. Previously, these ‘table top’ sized experiments had a notoriously difficult time obtaining funding, as they were often crowded out of the budgets by the massive flagship projects. However, small experiments can be crucial to ensuring our best chance of dark matter discovery, as they fill in the blinds pots missed by the big projects.

The panel therefore recommended creating a new pool of funding set aside for these smaller scale projects. Allowing these smaller scale projects to flourish is important for the vibrancy and scientific diversity of the field, as the centralization of ‘big science’ projects can sometimes lead to unhealthy side effects. This specific recommendation also mirrors a broader trend of the report: to attempt to rebalance the budget portfolio to be spread more evenly and less dominated by the large projects.

A pie chart comparing the budget porfolio in 2023 (left) versus the projected budget in 2033 (right). Currently most of the budget is being taken up by the accelerator upgrades and cavern construction of DUNE, with some amount for the LHC upgrades. But by 2033 the panel recommends a much more equitable balance between different research area.

What Didn’t Make It

Any report like this comes with some tough choices. Budget realities mean not all projects can be funded. Besides the pairing down of some of DUNE’s upgrades, one of the biggest areas that was recommended against were ‘accessory experiments at the LHC’. In particular, MATHUSULA and the Forward Physics Facility were two experiments that proposed to build additional detectors near already existing LHC collision points to look for particles that may be missed by the current experiments. By building new detectors hundreds of meters away from the collision point, shielded by concrete and the earth, they can obtained unique sensitivity to ‘long lived’ particles capable of traversing such distances. These experiments would follow in the footsteps of the current FASER experiment, which is already producing impressive results.

While FASER found success as a relatively ‘cheap’ experiment, reusing detector components from and situating itself in a beam tunnel, these new proposals were asking for quite a bit more. The scale of these detectors would have required new caverns to be built, significantly increasing the cost. Given the cost and specialized purpose of these detectors, the panel recommended against their construction. These collaborations may now try to find ways to pare down their proposal so they can apply to the new small project portfolio.

Another major decision by the panel was to recommend against hosting a new Higgs factor collider in the US. But that will discussed more in a future post.

Conclusions

The P5 panel was faced with a difficult task, the total cost of all projects they were presented with was three times the budget. But they were able to craft a plan that continues the work of the previous decade, addresses current shortcomings and lays out an inspiring vision for the future. So far the community seems to be strongly rallying behind it. At time of writing, over 2700 community members from undergraduates to senior researchers have signed a petition endorsing the panels recommendations. This strong show of support will be key for turning these recommendations into actual funding, and hopefully lobbying congress to even increase funding so that more of this vision can be realized.

For those interested the full report as well as executive summaries of different areas can be found on the P5 website. Members of the US particle physics community are also encouraged to sign the petition endorsing the recommendations here.

And stayed tuned for part 2 of our coverage which will discuss the implications of the report on future colliders!

Moriond 2023 Recap

Every year since 1966,  particle physicists have gathered in the Alps to unveil and discuss their most important results of the year (and to ski). This year I had the privilege to attend the Moriond QCD session so I thought I would post a recap here. It was a packed agenda spanning 6 days of talks, and featured a lot of great results over many different areas of particle physics, so I’ll have to stick to the highlights here.

FASER Observes First Collider Neutrinos

Perhaps the most exciting result of Moriond came from the FASER experiment, a small detector recently installed in the LHC tunnel downstream from the ATLAS collision point. They announced the first ever observation of neutrinos produced in a collider. Neutrinos are produced all the time in LHC collisions, but because they very rarely interact, and current experiments were not designed to look for them, no one had ever actually observed them in a detector until now. Based on data collected during collisions from last year, FASER observed 153 candidate neutrino events, with a negligible amount of predicted backgrounds; an unmistakable observation.

Black image showing colorful tracks left by particles produced in a neutrino interaction
A neutrino candidate in the FASER emulsion detector. Source

This first observation opens the door for studying the copious high energy neutrinos produced in colliders, which sit in an energy range currently unprobed by other neutrino experiments. The FASER experiment is still very new, so expect more exciting results from them as they continue to analyze their data. A first search for dark photons was also released which should continue to improve with more luminosity. On the neutrino side, they have yet to release full results based on data from their emulsion detector which will allow them to study electron and tau neutrinos in addition to the muon neutrinos this first result is based on.

New ATLAS and CMS Results

The biggest result from the general purpose LHC experiments was ATLAS and CMS both announcing that they have observed the simultaneous production of 4 top quarks. This is one of the rarest Standard Model processes ever observed, occurring a thousand times less frequently than a Higgs being produced. Now that it has been observed the two experiments will use Run-3 data to study the process in more detail in order to look for signs of new physics.

Event displays from ATLAS and CMS showing the signature of 4 top events in their respective detectors
Candidate 4 top events from ATLAS (left) and CMS (right).

ATLAS also unveiled an updated measurement of the mass of the W boson. Since CDF announced its measurement last year, and found a value in tension with the Standard Model at ~7-sigma, further W mass measurements have become very important. This ATLAS result was actually a reanalysis of their previous measurement, with improved PDF’s and statistical methods. Though still not as precise as the CDF measurement, these improvements shrunk their errors slightly (from 19 to 16 MeV).  The ATLAS measurement reports a value of the W mass in very good agreement with the Standard Model, and approximately 4-sigma in tension with the CDF value. These measurements are very complex, and work is going to be needed to clarify the situation.

CMS had an intriguing excess (2.8-sigma global) in a search for a Higgs-like particle decaying into an electron and muon. This kind of ‘flavor violating’ decay would be a clear indication of physics beyond the Standard Model. Unfortunately it does not seem like ATLAS has any similar excess in their data.

Status of Flavor Anomalies

At the end of 2022, LHCb announced that the golden channel of the flavor anomalies, the R(K) anomaly, had gone away upon further analysis. Many of the flavor physics talks at Moriond seemed to be dealing with this aftermath.

Of the remaining flavor anomalies, R(D), a ratio describing the decay rates of B mesons in final states with D mesons and taus versus D mesons plus muons or electrons, has still been attracting interest. LHCb unveiled a new measurement that focused on hadronically taus and found a value that agreed with the Standard Model prediction. However this new measurement had larger error bars than others so it only brought down the world average slightly. The deviation currently sits at around 3-sigma.

A summary plot showing all the measurements of R(D) and R(D*). The newest LHCb measurement is shown in the red band / error bar on the left. The world average still shows a 3-sigma deviation to the SM prediction

An interesting theory talk pointed out that essentially any new physics which would produce a deviation in R(D) should also produce a deviation in another lepton flavor ratio, R(Λc), because it features the same b->clv transition. However LHCb’s recent measurement of R(Λc) actually found a small deviation in the opposite direction as R(D). The two results are only incompatible at the ~1.5-sigma level for now, but it’s something to continue to keep an eye on if you are following the flavor anomaly saga.

It was nice to see that the newish Belle II experiment is now producing some very nice physics results. The highlight of which was a world-best measurement of the mass of the tau lepton. Look out for more nice Belle II results as they ramp up their luminosity, and hopefully they can weigh in on the R(D) anomaly soon.

A fit to the invariant mass the visible decay products of the tau lepton, used to determine its intrinsic mass. An impressive show of precision from Belle II

Theory Pushes for Precision

The focus of much of the theory talks was about trying to advance our precision in predictions of standard model physics. This ‘bread and butter’ physics is sometimes overlooked in scientific press, but is an absolutely crucial part of the particle physics ecosystem. As experiments reach better and better precision, improved theory calculations are required to accurately model backgrounds, predict signals, and have precise standard model predictions to compare to so that deviations can be spotted. Nice results in this area included evidence for an intrinsic amount of charm quarks inside the proton from the NNPDF collaboration, very precise extraction of CKM matrix elements by using lattice QCD, and two different proposals for dealing with tricky aspects regarding the ‘flavor’ of QCD jets.

Final Thoughts

Those were all the results that stuck out to me. But this is of course a very biased sampling! I am not qualified enough to point out the highlights of the heavy ion sessions or much of the theory presentations. For a more comprehensive overview, I recommend checking out the slides for the excellent experimental and theoretical summary talks. Additionally there was the Moriond Electroweak conference that happened the week before the QCD one, which covers many of the same topics but includes neutrino physics results and dark matter direct detection. Overall it was a very enjoyable conference and really showcased the vibrancy of the field!

The Search for Simplicity : The Higgs Boson’s Self Coupling

When students first learn quantum field theory, the mathematical language the underpins the behavior of elementary particles, they start with the simplest possible interaction you can write down : a particle with no spin and no charge scattering off another copy of itself. One then eventually moves on to the more complicated interactions that describe the behavior of fundamental particles of the Standard Model. They may quickly forget this simplified interaction as a unrealistic toy example, greatly simplified compared to the complexity the real world. Though most interactions that underpin particle physics are indeed quite a bit more complicated, nature does hold a special place for simplicity. This barebones interaction is predicted to occur in exactly one scenario : a Higgs boson scattering off itself. And one of the next big targets for particle physics is to try and observe it.

A feynman diagram consisting of two dotted lines coming merging together to form a single line.
A Feynman diagram of the simplest possible interaction in quantum field theory, a spin-zero particle interacting with itself.

The Higgs is the only particle without spin in the Standard Model, and the only one that doesn’t carry any type of charge. So even though particles such as gluons can interact with other gluons, its never two of the same kind of gluons (the two interacting gluons will always carry different color charges). The Higgs is the only one that can have this ‘simplest’ form of self-interaction. Prominent theorist Nima Arkani-Hamed has said that the thought of observing this “simplest possible interaction in nature gives [him] goosebumps“.

But more than being interesting for its simplicity, this self-interaction of the Higgs underlies a crucial piece of the Standard Model: the story of how particles got their mass. The Standard Model tells us that the reason all fundamental particles have mass is their interaction with the Higgs field. Every particle’s mass is proportional to the strength of the Higgs field. The fact that particles have any mass at all is tied to the fact that the lowest energy state of the Higgs field is at a non-zero value. According to the Standard Model, early in the universe’s history when the temperature were much higher, the Higgs potential had a different shape, with its lowest energy state at field value of zero. At this point all the particles we know about were massless. As the universe cooled the shape of the Higgs potential morphed into a ‘wine bottle’ shape, and the Higgs field moved into the new minimum at non-zero value where it sits today. The symmetry of the initial state, in which the Higgs was at the center of its potential, was ‘spontaneously broken’  as its new minimum, at a location away from the center, breaks the rotation symmetry of the potential. Spontaneous symmetry breaking is a very deep theoretical idea that shows up not just in particle physics but in exotic phases of matter as well (eg superconductors). 

A diagram showing the ‘unbroken’ Higgs potential in the very early universe (left) and the ‘wine bottle’ shape it has today (right). When the Higgs at the center of its potential it has a rotational symmetry, there are no preferred directions. But once it finds it new minimum that symmetry is broken. The Higgs now sits at a particular field value away from the center and a preferred direction exists in the system. 

This fantastical story of how particle’s gained their masses, one of the crown jewels of the Standard Model, has not yet been confirmed experimentally. So far we have studied the Higgs’s interactions with other particles, and started to confirm the story that it couples to particles in proportion to their mass. But to confirm this story of symmetry breaking we will to need to study the shape of the Higgs’s potential, which we can probe only through its self-interactions. Many theories of physics beyond the Standard Model, particularly those that attempt explain how the universe ended up with so much matter and very little anti-matter, predict modifications to the shape of this potential, further strengthening the importance of this measurement.

Unfortunately observing the Higgs interacting with itself and thus measuring the shape of its potential will be no easy feat. The key way to observe the Higgs’s self-interaction is to look for a single Higgs boson splitting into two. Unfortunately in the Standard Model additional processes that can produce two Higgs bosons quantum mechanically interfere with the Higgs self interaction process which produces two Higgs bosons, leading to a reduced production rate. It is expected that a Higgs boson scattering off itself occurs around 1000 times less often than the already rare processes which produce a single Higgs boson.  A few years ago it was projected that by the end of the LHC’s run (with 20 times more data collected than is available today), we may barely be able to observe the Higgs’s self-interaction by combining data from both the major experiments at the LHC (ATLAS and CMS).

Fortunately, thanks to sophisticated new data analysis techniques, LHC experimentalists are currently significantly outpacing the projected sensitivity. In particular, powerful new machine learning methods have allowed physicists to cut away background events mimicking the di-Higgs signal much more than was previously thought possible. Because each of the two Higgs bosons can decay in a variety of ways, the best sensitivity will be obtained by combining multiple different ‘channels’ targeting different decay modes. It is therefore going to take a village of experimentalists each working hard to improve the sensitivity in various different channels to produce the final measurement. However with the current data set, the sensitivity is still a factor of a few away from the Standard Model prediction. Any signs of this process are only expected to come after the LHC gets an upgrade to its collision rate a few years from now.

Limit plots on HH production in various different decay modes.
Current experimental limits on the simultaneous production of two Higgs bosons, a process sensitive to the Higgs’s self-interaction, from ATLAS (left) and CMS (right). The predicted rate from the Standard Model is shown in red in each plot while the current sensitivity is shown with the black lines. This process is searched for in a variety of different decay modes of the Higgs (various rows on each plot). The combined sensitivity across all decay modes for each experiment allows them currently to rule out the production of two Higgs bosons at 3-4 times the rate predicted by the Standard Model. With more data collected both experiments will gain sensitivity to the range predicted by the Standard Model.

While experimentalists will work as hard as they can to study this process at the LHC, to perform a precision measurement of it, and really confirm the ‘wine bottle’ shape of the potential, its likely a new collider will be needed. Studying this process in detail is one of the main motivations to build a new high energy collider, with the current leading candidates being an even bigger proton-proton collider to succeed the LHC or a new type of high energy muon collider.

Various pictorial representations of the uncertainty on the Higgs potential shape.
A depiction of our current uncertainty on the shape of the Higgs potential (center), our expected uncertainty at the end of the LHC (top right) and the projected uncertainty a new muon collider could achieve (bottom right). The Standard Model expectation is the tan line and the brown band shows the experimental uncertainty. Adapted from Nathaniel Craig’s talkhere

The quest to study nature’s simplest interaction will likely span several decades. But this long journey gives particle physicists a roadmap for the future, and a treasure worth traveling great lengths for.

Read More:

CERN Courier Interview with Nima Arkani-Hamed on the future of Particle Physics on the importance of the Higgs’s self-coupling

Wikipedia Article and Lecture Notes on Spontaneous symmetry breaking

Recent ATLAS Measurements of the Higgs Self Coupling

LHCb’s Xmas Letdown : The R(K) Anomaly Fades Away

Just before the 2022 holiday season LHCb announced it was giving the particle physics community a highly anticipated holiday present : an updated measurement of the lepton flavor universality ratio R(K).  Unfortunately when the wrapping paper was removed and the measurement revealed,  the entire particle physics community let out a collective groan. It was not shiny new-physics-toy we had all hoped for, but another pair of standard-model-socks.

The particle physics community is by now very used to standard-model-socks, receiving hundreds of pairs each year from various experiments all over the world. But this time there had be reasons to hope for more. Previous measurements of R(K) from LHCb had been showing evidence of a violation one of the standard model’s predictions (lepton flavor universality), making this triumph of the standard model sting much worse than most.

R(K) is the ratio of how often a B-meson (a bound state of a b-quark) decays into final states with a kaon (a bound state of an s-quark) plus two electrons vs final states with a kaon plus two muons. In the standard model there is a (somewhat mysterious) principle called lepton flavor universality which means that muons are just heavier versions of electrons. This principle implies B-mesons decays should produce electrons and muons equally and R(K) should be one. 

But previous measurements from LHCb had found R(K) to be less than one, with around 3σ of statistical evidence. Other LHCb measurements of B-mesons decays had also been showing similar hints of lepton flavor universality violation. This consistent pattern of deviations had not yet reached the significance required to claim a discovery. But it had led a good amount of physicists to become #cautiouslyexcited that there may be a new particle around, possibly interacting preferentially with muons and b-quarks, that was causing the deviation. Several hundred papers were written outlining possibilities of what particles could cause these deviations, checking whether their existence was constrained by other measurements, and suggesting additional measurements and experiments that could rule out or discover the various possibilities. 

This had all led to a considerable amount of anticipation for these updated results from LHCb. They were slated to be their final word on the anomaly using their full dataset collected during LHC’s 2nd running period of 2016-2018. Unfortunately what LHCb had discovered in this latest analysis was that they had made a mistake in their previous measurements.

There were additional backgrounds in their electron signal region which had not been previously accounted for. These backgrounds came from decays of B-mesons into pions or kaons which can be mistakenly identified as electrons. Backgrounds from mis-identification are always difficult to model with simulation, and because they are also coming from decays of B-mesons they produce similar peaks in their data as the sought after signal. Both these factors combined to make it hard to spot they were missing. Without accounting for these backgrounds it made it seem like there was more electron signal being produced than expected, leading to R(K) being below one. In this latest measurement LHCb found a way to estimate these backgrounds using other parts of their data. Once they were accounted for, the measurements of R(K) no longer showed any deviations, all agreed with one within uncertainties.

Plots showing two of the signal regions of for the electron channel measurements. The previously unaccounted for backgrounds are shown in lime green and the measured signal contribution is shown in red. These backgrounds have a peak overlapping with that of the signal, making it hard to spot that they were missing.

It is important to mention here that data analysis in particle physics is hard. As we attempt to test the limits of the standard model we are often stretching the limits of our experimental capabilities and mistakes do happen. It is commendable that the LHCb collaboration was able to find this issue and correct the record for the rest of the community. Still, some may be a tad frustrated that the checks which were used to find these missing backgrounds were not done earlier given the high profile nature of these measurements (their previous result claimed ‘evidence’ of new physics and was published in Nature).

Though the R(K) anomaly has faded away, the related set of anomalies that were thought to be part of a coherent picture (including another leptonic branching ratio R(D) and an angular analysis of the same B meson decay in to muons) still remain for now. Though most of these additional anomalies involve significantly larger uncertainties on the Standard Model predictions than R(K) did, and are therefore less ‘clean’ indications of new physics.

Besides these ‘flavor anomalies’ other hints of new physics remain, including measurements of the muon’s magnetic moment, the measured mass of the W boson and others. Though certainly none of these are slam dunk, as they each causes for skepticism.

So as we begin 2023, with a great deal of fresh LHC data expected to be delivered, particle physicists once again begin our seemingly Sisyphean task : to find evidence physics beyond the standard model. We know its out there, but nature is under no obligation to make it easy for us.

Paper: Test of lepton universality in b→sℓ+ℓ− decays (arXiv link)

Authors: LHCb Collaboration

Read More:

Excellent twitter thread summarizing the history of the R(K) saga

A related, still discrepant, flavor anomaly from LHCb

The W Mass Anomaly

The LHC is on turning on again! What does that mean?

Deep underground, on the border between Switzerland and France, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is starting back up again after a 4 year hiatus. Today, July 5th, the LHC had its first full energy collisions since 2018.  Whenever the LHC is running is exciting enough on its own, but this new run of data taking will also feature several upgrades to the LHC itself as well as the several different experiments that make use of its collisions. The physics world will be watching to see if the data from this new run confirms any of the interesting anomalies seen in previous datasets or reveals any other unexpected discoveries. 

New and Improved

During the multi-year shutdown the LHC itself has been upgraded. Noticably the energy of the colliding beams has been increased, from 13 TeV to 13.6 TeV. Besides breaking its own record for the highest energy collisions every produced, this 5% increase to the LHC’s energy will give a boost to searches looking for very rare high energy phenomena. The rate of collisions the LHC produces is also expected to be roughly 50% higher  previous maximum achieved in previous runs. At the end of this three year run it is expected that the experiments will have collected twice as much data as the previous two runs combined. 

The experiments have also been busy upgrading their detectors to take full advantage of this new round of collisions.

The ALICE experiment had the most substantial upgrade. It features a new silicon inner tracker, an upgraded time projection chamber, a new forward muon detector, a new triggering system and an improved data processing system. These upgrades will help in its study of exotic phase of matter called the quark gluon plasma, a hot dense soup of nuclear material present in the early universe. 

 

A diagram showing the various upgrades to the ALICE detector (source)

ATLAS and CMS, the two ‘general purpose’ experiments at the LHC, had a few upgrades as well. ATLAS replaced their ‘small wheel’ detector used to measure the momentum of muons. CMS replaced the inner most part its inner tracker, and installed a new GEM detector to measure muons close to the beamline. Both experiments also upgraded their software and data collection systems (triggers) in order to be more sensitive to the signatures of potential exotic particles that may have been missed in previous runs. 

The new ATLAS ‘small wheel’ being lowered into place. (source)

The LHCb experiment, which specializes in studying the properties of the bottom quark, also had major upgrades during the shutdown. LHCb installed a new Vertex Locator closer to the beam line and upgraded their tracking and particle identification system. It also fully revamped its trigger system to run entirely on GPU’s. These upgrades should allow them to collect 5 times the amount of data over the next two runs as they did over the first two. 

Run 3 will also feature a new smaller scale experiment, FASER, which will study neutrinos produced in the LHC and search for long-lived new particles

What will we learn?

One of the main goals in particle physics now is direct experimental evidence of a phenomena unexplained by the Standard Model. While very successful in many respects, the Standard Model leaves several mysteries unexplained such as the nature of dark matter, the imbalance of matter over anti-matter, and the origin of neutrino’s mass. All of these are questions many hope that the LHC can help answer.

Much of the excitement for Run-3 of the LHC will be on whether the additional data can confirm some of the deviations from the Standard Model which have been seen in previous runs.

One very hot topic in particle physics right now are a series of ‘flavor anomalies‘ seen by the LHCb experiment in previous LHC runs. These anomalies are deviations from the Standard Model predictions of how often certain rare decays of the b quarks should occur. With their dataset so far, LHCb has not yet had enough data to pass the high statistical threshold required in particle physics to claim a discovery. But if these anomalies are real, Run-3 should provide enough data to claim a discovery.

A summary of the various measurements making up the ‘flavor anomalies’. The blue lines and error bars indicate the measurements and their uncertainties. The yellow line and error bars indicates the standard model predictions and their uncertainties. Source

There are also a decent number ‘excesses’, potential signals of new particles being produced in LHC collisions, that have been seen by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations. The statistical significance of these excesses are all still quite low, and many such excesses have gone away with more data. But if one or more of these excesses was confirmed in the Run-3 dataset it would be a massive discovery.

While all of these anomalies are gamble, this new dataset will also certainly be used to measure various known entities with better precision, improving our understanding of nature no matter what. Our understanding of the Higgs boson, the top quark, rare decays of the bottom quark, rare standard model processes, the dynamics of the quark gluon plasma and many other areas will no doubt improve from this additional data.

In addition to these ‘known’ anomalies and measurements, whenever an experiment starts up again there is also the possibility of something entirely unexpected showing up. Perhaps one of the upgrades performed will allow the detection of something entirely new, unseen in previous runs. Perhaps FASER will see signals of long-lived particles missed by the other experiments. Or perhaps the data from the main experiments will be analyzed in a new way, revealing evidence of a new particle which had been missed up until now.

No matter what happens, the world of particle physics is a more exciting place when the LHC is running. So lets all cheers to that!

Read More:

CERN Run-3 Press Event / Livestream Recording “Join us for the first collisions for physics at 13.6 TeV!

Symmetry Magazine “What’s new for LHC Run 3?

CERN Courier “New data strengthens RK flavour anomaly

Too Massive? New measurement of the W boson’s mass sparks intrigue

This is part one of our coverage of the CDF W mass result covering its implications. Read about the details of the measurement in a sister post here!

Last week the physics world was abuzz with the latest results from an experiment that stopped running a decade ago. Some were heralding this as the beginning of a breakthrough in fundamental physics, headlines read “Shock result in particle experiment could spark physics revolution” (BBC). So what exactly is all the fuss about?

The result itself is an ultra-precise measurement of the mass of the W boson. The W boson is one of the carriers of weak force and this measurement pegged its mass at 80,433 MeV with an uncertainty of 9 MeV. The excitement is coming because this value disagrees with the prediction from our current best theory of particle physics, the Standard Model. In theoretical structure of the Standard Model the masses of the gauge bosons are all interrelated. In the Standard Model the mass of the W boson can be computed based on the mass of the Z as well as few other parameters in the theory (like the weak mixing angle). In a first approximation (ie to the lowest order in perturbation theory), the mass of the W boson is equal to the mass of the Z boson times the cosine of the weak mixing angle. Based on other measurements that have been performed including the Z mass, the Higgs mass, the lifetime of muons and others, the Standard Model predicts that the mass of the W boson should be 80,357 (with an uncertainty of 6 MeV). So the two numbers disagree quite strongly, at the level of 7 standard deviations.

If the measurement and the Standard Model prediction are both correct, this would imply that there is some deficiency in the Standard Model; some new particle interacting with the W boson whose effects haven’t been unaccounted for. This would be welcome news to particle physicists, as we know that the Standard Model is an incomplete theory but have been lacking direct experimental confirmation of its deficiencies. The size of the discrepancy would also mean that whatever new particle was causing the deviation may also be directly detectable within our current or near future colliders.

If this discrepancy is real, exactly what new particles would this entail? Judging based on the 30+ (and counting) papers released on the subject in the last week, there are a good number of possibilities. Some examples include extra Higgs bosons, extra Z-like bosons, and vector-like fermions. It would take additional measurements and direct searches to pick out exactly what the culprit was. But it would hopefully give experimenters definite targets of particles to look for, which would go a long way in advancing the field.

But before everyone starts proclaiming the Standard Model dead and popping champagne bottles, its important to take stock of this new CDF measurement in the larger context. Measurements of the W mass are hard, that’s why it has taken the CDF collaboration over 10 years to publish this result since they stopped taking data. And although this measurement is the most precise one to date, several other W mass measurements have been performed by other experiments.

The Other Measurements

A plot summarizing the various W mass measurements performed to date
A summary of all the W mass measurements performed to date (black dots) with their uncertainties (blue bars) as compared to the the Standard Model prediction (yellow band). One can see that this new CDF result is in tension with previous measurements. (source)

Previous measurements of the W mass have come from experiments at the Large Electron-Positron collider (LEP), another experiment at the Tevatron (D0) and experiments at the LHC (ATLAS and LHCb). Though none of these were as precise as this new CDF result, they had been painting a consistent picture of a value in agreement with the Standard Model prediction. If you take the average of these other measurements, their value differs from the CDF measurement the level about 4 standard deviations, which is quite significant. This discrepancy seems large enough that it is unlikely to arise from purely random fluctuation, and likely means that either some uncertainties have been underestimated or something has been overlooked in either the previous measurements or this new one.

What one would like are additional, independent, high precision measurements that could either confirm the CDF value or the average value of the previous measurements. Unfortunately it is unlikely that such a measurement will come in the near future. The only currently running facility capable of such a measurement is the LHC, but it will be difficult for experiments at the LHC to rival the precision of this CDF one.

W mass measurements are somewhat harder at the LHC than the Tevatron for a few reasons. First of all the LHC is proton-proton collider, while the Tevatron was a proton-antiproton collider, and the LHC also operates at a higher collision energy than the Tevatron. Both differences cause W bosons produced at the LHC to have more momentum than those produced at the Tevatron. Modeling of the W boson’s momentum distribution can be a significant uncertainty of its mass measurement, and the extra momentum of W’s at the LHC makes this a larger effect. Additionally, the LHC has a higher collision rate, meaning that each time a W boson is produced there are actually tens of other collisions laid on top (rather than only a few other collisions like at the Tevatron). These extra collisions are called pileup and can make it harder to perform precision measurements like these. In particular for the W mass measurement, the neutrino’s momentum has to be inferred from the momentum imbalance in the event, and this becomes harder when there are many collisions on top of each other. Of course W mass measurements are possible at the LHC, as evidenced by ATLAS and LHCb’s already published results. And we can look forward to improved results from ATLAS and LHCb as well as a first result from CMS. But it may be very difficult for them to reach the precision of this CDF result.

A histogram of the transverse mass of the W from the ATLAS result. Showing how 50 MeV shifts in the W mass change the spectrum by extremely small amounts (a few tenths of a percent).
A plot of the transverse mass (one of the variables used in a measurement) of the W from the ATLAS measurement. The red and yellow lines show how little the distribution changes if the W mass changes by 50 MeV, which is around two and half times the uncertainty of the ATLAS result. These shifts change the distribution by only a few tenths of a percent, illustrating the difficulty involved. (source)

The Future

A future electron positron collider would be able to measure the W mass extremely precisely by using an alternate method. Instead of looking at the W’s decay, the mass could be measured through its production, by scanning the energy of the electron beams very close to the threshold to produce two W bosons. This method should offer precision significantly better than even this CDF result. However any measurement from a possible future electron positron collider won’t come for at least a decade.

In the coming months, expect this new CDF measurement to receive a lot buzz. Experimentalists will be poring over the details trying to figure out why it is in tension with previous measurements and working hard to produce new measurements from LHC data. Meanwhile theorists will write a bunch of papers detailing the possibilities of what new particles could explain the discrepancy and if there is a connection to other outstanding anomalies (like the muon g-2). But the big question of whether we are seeing the first real crack in the Standard Model or there is some mistake in one or more of the measurements is unlikely to be answered for a while.

If you want to learn about how the measurement actually works, check out this sister post!

Read More:

Cern Courier “CDF sets W mass against the Standard Model

Blog post on the CDF result from an (ATLAS) expert on W mass measurements “[Have we] finally found new physics with the latest W boson mass measurement?”

PDG Review “Electroweak Model and Constraints on New Physics

Moriond 2022 : Return of the Excesses ?!

Recontres de Moriond is probably the biggest ski-vacation  conference of the year in particle physics, and is one of the places big particle physics experiments often unveil their new results. For the last few years the buzz in particle physics has been surrounding ‘indirect’ probes of new physics, specifically the latest measurement of the muons anomalous magnetic moment (g-2) and hints from LHCb about lepton flavor universality violation. If either of these anomalies were confirmed this would of course be huge, definitive laboratory evidence for physics beyond the standard model, but they would not answer the question of what exactly that new physics was. As evidenced by the 500+ papers written in the last year offering explanations of the g-2 anomaly, there are a lot of different potential explanations.

A definitive answer would come in the form of a ‘direct’ observation of whatever particle is causing the anomaly, which traditionally means producing and observing said particle in a collider. But so far the largest experiments performing these direct searches, ATLAS and CMS, have not shown any hints of new particles. But this Moriond, as the LHC experiments are getting ready for the start of a new data taking run later this year, both collaborations unveiled ‘excesses’ in their Run-2 data. These excesses, extra events above a background prediction that resemble the signature of a new particle, don’t have enough statistical significance to claim discoveries yet, and may disappear as more data is collected, as many an excess has done before. But they are intriguing and some have connections to anomalies seen in other experiments. 

So while there have been many great talks at Moriond (covering cosmology, astro-particle searches for dark matter, neutrino physics, and more flavor physics measurements and more) and the conference is still ongoing, its worth reviewing these new excesses in particular and what they might mean.

Excess 1: ATLAS Heavy Stable Charged Particles

Talk (paper forthcoming): https://agenda.infn.it/event/28365/contributions/161449/attachments/89009/119418/LeThuile-dEdx.pdf

Most searches for new particles at the LHC assume that said new particles decay very quickly once they are produced and their signatures can then be pieced together by measuring all the particles they decay to. However in the last few years there has been increasing interest in searching for particles that don’t decay quickly and therefore leave striking signatures in the detectors that can be distinguished from regular Standard Model particles. This particular ATLAS search searches for particles that are long-lived, heavy and charged. Due to their heavy masses (and/or large charges) particles such as these will produce greater ionization signals as they pass through the detector than standard model particles would. This ATLAS analysis selects tracks with high momentum, and unusually high ionization signals. They find an excess of events with high mass and high ionization, with a significance of 3.3-sigma.

The ATLAS excess of heavy stable charged particles. The black data points lie above the purple background prediction and match well with the signature of a new particle (yellow line). 

If their background has been estimated properly, this seems to be quite clear signature and it might be time to get excited. ATLAS has checked that these events are not due to any known instrumental defect, but they do offer one caveat. For a heavy particle like this (with a mass of ~TeV) one would expect for it to be moving noticeably slower than the speed of light. But when ATLAS compares the ‘time of flight’ of the particle, how long it takes to reach their detectors, its velocity appears indistinguishable from the speed of light. One would expect background Standard Model particles to travel close to the speed of light.

So what exactly to make of this excess is somewhat unclear. Hopefully CMS can weigh in soon!

Excesses 2-4: CMS’s Taus; Vector-Like-Leptons and TauTau Resonance(s)

Paper 1 : https://cds.cern.ch/record/2803736

Paper 2: https://cds.cern.ch/record/2803739

Many of the models seeking to explain the flavor anomalies seen by LHCb predict new particles that couple preferentially to tau’s and b-quarks. These two separate CMS analyses look for particles that decay specifically to tau leptons.

In the first analysis they look for pairs of vector-like-leptons (VLL’s) the lightest particle predicted in one of the favored models to explain the flavor anomalies. The VLL’s are predicted to decay into tau leptons and b-quarks, so the analysis targets events which have at least four b-tagged jets and reconstructed tau leptons. They trained a machine learning classifier to separate VLL’s from their backgrounds. They see an excess of events at high VLL classification probability in the categories with 1 or 2 reconstructed tau’s, with a significance of 2.8 standard deviations.

The CMS Vector-Like-Lepton excess. The gray filled histogram shows the best-fit amount of VLL signal. The histograms of other colors show the contributions of various backgrounds the the hatched band their uncertainty. 

In the second analysis they look for new resonances that decay into two tau leptons. They employ a sophisticated ’embedding’ technique to estimate the large background of Z bosons decaying to tau pairs by using the decays of Z bosons to muons. They see two excesses, one at 100 GeV and one at 1200 GeV, each with a significances of around 3-sigma. The excess at ~100 GeV could also be related to another CMS analysis that saw an excess of diphoton events at ~95 GeV, especially given that if there was an additional Higgs-like boson at 95 GeV  diphoton and ditau would be the two channels it would likely first appear in.

CMS TauTau excesses. The excess at ~100 GeV is shown in the left plot and the one at 1200 GeV is shown on the right, the best fit signal is shown with the red line in the bottom ration panels. 

While the statistical significances of these excess are not quite as high as the first one, meaning it is more likely they are fluctuations that will disappear with more data, their connection to other anomalies is quite intriguing.

Excess 4: CMS Paired Dijet Resonances

Paper: https://cds.cern.ch/record/2803669

Often statistical significance doesn’t tell the full story of an excess. When CMS first performed its standard dijet search on Run2 LHC data, where one looks for a resonance decaying to two jets by looking for bumps in the dijet invariant mass spectrum, they did not find any significant excesses. But they did note one particular striking event, which 4 jets which form two ‘wide jets’, each with a mass of 1.9 TeV and the 4 jet mass is 8 TeV.

An event display for the striking the CMS 4-jet event. The 4 jets combine to form two back-to-back dijet pairs, each with mass of 1.9 TeV. 

This single event seems very likely to occur via normal Standard Model QCD which normally has a regular 2-jet topology. However a new 8 TeV resonance which decayed to two intermediate particles with masses of 1.9 TeV which then each decayed to a pair of jets would lead to such a signature. This motivated them to design this analysis, a new search specifically targeting this paired dijet resonance topology. In this new search they have now found a second event with very similar characteristics. The local statistical significance of this excess is 3.9-sigma, but when one accounts for the many different potential dijet and 4-jet mass combinations which were considered in the analysis that drops to 1.6-sigma.

Though 1.6-sigma is relatively low, the striking nature of these events is certainly intriguing and warrants follow up. The Run-3 will also bring a slight increase to the LHC’s energy (13 -> 13.6 TeV) which will give the production rate of any new 8 TeV particles a not-insignificant boost.

Conclusions

The safe bet on any of these excesses would probably be that it will disappear with more data, as many excesses have done in the past. And many particle physicists are probably wary of getting too excited after the infamous 750 GeV diphoton fiasco in which many people got very excited (and wrote hundreds of papers about) a about a few-sigma excess in CMS + ATLAS data that disappeared as more data was collected. All of theses excesses are for analyses only performed by a single experiment (ATLAS or CMS) for now, but both experiments have similar capabilities so it will be interesting to see what the counterpart has to say for each excess once they perform a similar analysis on their Run-2 data. At the very least these results add some excitement for the upcoming LHC Run-3–the LHC collisions are starting up again this year after being on hiatus since 2018.

 

Read more:

CERN Courier Article “Dijet excess intrigues at CMS” 

Background on the imfamous 750 GeV diphoton excess, Physics World Article “And so to bed for the 750 GeV bump

Background on the LHCb flavor anomalies, CERN Courier “New data strengthens RK flavour anomaly

 

How to find a ‘beautiful’ valentine at the LHC

References:  https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.07158 (CMS)  and https://arxiv.org/abs/1907.05120 (ATLAS)

If you are looking for love at the Large Hadron Collider this Valentines Day, you won’t find a better eligible bachelor than the b-quark. The b-quark (also called the ‘beauty’ quark if you are feeling romantic, the ‘bottom’ quark if you are feeling crass, or a ‘beautiful bottom quark’ if you trying to weird people out) is the 2nd heaviest quark behind the top quark. It hangs out with a cool crowd, as it is the Higgs’s favorite decay and the top quark’s BFF; two particles we would all like to learn a bit more about.

Choose beauty this valentines day

No one wants a romantic partner who is boring, and can’t stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately when most quarks or gluons are produced at the LHC, they produce big sprays of particles called ‘jets’ that all look the same. That means even if the up quark was giving you butterflies, you wouldn’t be able to pick its jets out from those of strange quarks or down quarks, and no one wants to be pressured into dating a whole friend group. But beauty quarks can set themselves apart in a few ways. So if you are swiping through LHC data looking for love, try using these tips to find your b(ae).

Look for a partner whose not afraid of commitment and loves to travel.  Beauty quarks live longer than all the other quarks (a full 1.5 picoseconds, sub-atomic love is unfortunately very fleeting) letting them explore their love of traveling (up to a centimeter from the beamline, a great honeymoon spot I’ve heard) before decaying.

You want a lover who will bring you gifts, which you can hold on to even after they are gone. And when beauty quarks they, you won’t be in despair, but rather charmed with your new c-quark companion. And sometimes if they are really feeling the magic, they leave behind charged leptons when they go, so you will have something to remember them by.

The ‘profile photo’ of a beauty quark. You can see its traveled away from the crowd (the Primary Vertex, PV) and has started a cool new Secondary Vertex (SV) to hang out in.

But even with these standout characteristics, beauty can still be hard to find, as there are a lot of un-beautiful quarks in the sea you don’t want to get hung up on. There is more to beauty than meets the eye, and as you get to know them you will find that beauty quarks have even more subtle features that make them stick out from the rest. So if you are serious about finding love in 2022, its may be time to turn to the romantic innovation sweeping the nation: modern machine learning.  Even if we would all love to spend many sleepless nights learning all about them, unfortunately these days it feels like the-scientist-she-tells-you-not-to-worry-about, neural networks, will always understand them a bit better. So join the great romantics of our time (CMS and ATLAS) in embracing the modern dating scene, and let the algorithms find the most beautiful quarks for you.

So if you looking for love this Valentines Day, look no further than the beauty quark. And if you area feeling hopeless, you can take inspiration from this decades-in-the-making love story from a few years ago: “Higgs Decay into Bottom Beauty Quarks Seen at Last

A beautiful wedding photo that took decades to uncover, the Higgs decay in beauty quarks (red) was finally seen in 2018. Other, boring couples (dibosons), are shown in gray.

The Mini and Micro Boone Mystery, Part 1 Experiment

Title: “Search for an Excess of Electron Neutrino Interactions in MicroBooNE Using Multiple Final State Topologies”

Authors: The MiniBoone Collaboration

Reference: https://arxiv.org/abs/2110.14054

This is the first post in a series on the latest MicroBooNE results, covering the experimental side. Click here to read about the theory side. 

The new results from the MicroBoone experiment received a lot of excitement last week, being covered by several major news outlets. But unlike most physics news stories that make the press, it was a null result; they did not see any evidence for new particles or interactions. So why is it so interesting? Particle physics experiments produce null results every week, but what made this one newsworthy is that MicroBoone was trying to check the results from two previous experiments LSND and MiniBoone, that did see something anomalous with very high statistical evidence. If the LSND/MiniBoone result was confirmed, it would have been a huge breakthrough in particle physics, but now that it wasn’t many physicists are scratching their heads trying to make sense of these seemingly conflicting results. However, the MicroBoone experiment is not exactly the same as MiniBoone/LSND, and understanding the differences between the two sets of experiments may play an important role in unraveling this mystery.

Accelerator Neutrino Basics

All of these experiments are ‘accelerator neutrino experiments’, so lets first review what that means. Neutrino’s are ‘ghostly’ particles that are difficult to study (check out this post for more background on neutrinos).  Because they only couple through the weak force, neutrinos don’t like to interact with anything very much. So in order to detect them you need both a big detector with a lot of active material and a source with a lot of neutrinos. These experiments are designed to detect neutrinos produced in a human-made beam. To make the beam, a high energy beam of protons is directed at a target. These collisions produce a lot of particles, including unstable bound states of quarks like pions and kaons. These unstable particles have charge, so we can use magnets to focus them into a well-behaved beam.  When the pions and kaons decay they usually produce a muon and a muon neutrino. The beam of pions and kaons is pointed at an underground detector located a few hundred meters (or kilometers!) away, and then given time to decay. After they decay there will be a nice beam of muons and muon neutrinos. The muons can be stopped by some kind of shielding (like the earth’s crust), but the neutrinos will sail right through to the detector.

A diagram showing the basics of how a neutrino beam is made. Source

Nearly all of the neutrinos from the beam will still pass right through your detector, but a few of them will interact, allowing you to learn about their properties.

All of these experiments are considered ‘short-baseline’ because the distance between the neutrino source and the detector is only a few hundred meters (unlike the hundreds of kilometers in other such experiments). These experiments were designed to look for oscillation of the beam’s muon neutrinos into electron neutrinos which then interact with their detector (check out this post for some background on neutrino oscillations). Given the types of neutrinos we know about and their properties, this should be too short of a distance for neutrinos to oscillate, so any observed oscillation would be an indication something new (beyond the Standard Model) was going on.

The LSND + MiniBoone Anomaly

So the LSND and MiniBoone ‘anomaly’ was an excess of events above backgrounds that looked like electron neutrinos interacting with their detector. Both detectors were based on similar technology and were a similar distance from their neutrino source. Their detectors were essentially big tanks of mineral oil lined with light-detecting sensors.

An engineer styling inside the LSND detector. Source

At these energies the most common way neutrinos interact is to scatter against a neutron to produce a proton and a charged lepton (called a ‘charged current’ interaction). Electron neutrinos will produce outgoing electrons and muon neutrinos will produce outgoing muons.

A diagram of a ‘charged current’ interaction. A muon neutrino comes in and scatters against a neutron, producing a muon and a proton. Source

When traveling through the mineral oil these charged leptons will produce a ring of Cherenkov light which is detected by the sensors on the edge of the detector. Muons and electrons can be differentiated based on the characteristics of the Cherenkov light they emit. Electrons will undergo multiple scatterings off of the detector material while muons will not. This makes the Cherenkov rings of electrons ‘fuzzier’ than those of muons. High energy photons can produce electrons positron pairs which look very similar to a regular electron signal and are thus a source of background. 

A comparison of muon and electron Cherenkov rings from the Super-Kamiokande experiment. Electrons produce fuzzier rings than muons. Source

Even with a good beam and a big detector, the feebleness of neutrino interactions means that it takes a while to get a decent number of potential events. The MiniBoone experiment ran for 17 years looking for electron neutrinos scattering in their detector. In MiniBoone’s most recent analysis, they saw around 600 more events than would be expected if there were no anomalous electron neutrinos reaching their detector. The statistical significance of this excess, 4.8-sigma, was very high. Combining with LSND which saw a similar excess, the significance was above 6-sigma. This means its very unlikely this is a statistical fluctuation. So either there is some new physics going on or one of their backgrounds has been seriously under-estimated. This excess of events is what has been dubbed the ‘MiniBoone anomaly’.

The number of events seen in the MiniBoone experiment as a function of the energy seen in the interaction. The predicted number of events from various known background sources are shown in the colored histograms. The best fit to the data including the signal of anomalous oscillations is shown by the dashed line. One can see that at low energies the black data points lie significantly above these backgrounds and strongly favor the oscillation hypothesis.

The MicroBoone Result

The MicroBoone experiment was commissioned to verify the MiniBoone anomaly as well as test out a new type of neutrino detector technology. The MicroBoone is the first major neutrino experiment to use a ‘Liquid Argon Time Projection Chamber’ detector. This new detector technology allows more detailed reconstruction of what is happening when a neutrino scatters in the detector. The the active volume of the detector is liquid Argon, which allows both light and charge to propagate through it. When a neutrino scatters in the liquid Argon, scintillation light is produced that is collected in sensors. As charged particles created in the collision pass through the liquid Argon they ionize atoms they pass by. An electric field applied to the detector causes this produced charge to drift towards a mesh of wires where it can be collected. By measuring the difference in arrival time between the light and the charge, as well as the amount of charge collected at different positions and times, the precise location and trajectory of the particles produced in the collision can be determined. 

A beautiful reconstructed event in the MicroBoone detector. The colored lines show the tracks of different particles produced in the collision, all coming from a single point where the neutrino interaction took place. One can also see that one of the tracks produced a shower of particles away from the interaction vertex.

This means that unlike the MiniBoone and LSND, MicroBoone can see not just the lepton, but also the hadronic particles (protons, pions, etc) produced when a neutrino scatters in their detector. This means that the same type of neutrino interaction actually looks very different in their detector. So when they went to test the MiniBoone anomaly they adopted multiple different strategies of what exactly to look for. In the first case they looked for the type of interaction that an electron neutrino would have most likely produced: an outgoing electron and proton whose kinematics match those of a charged current interaction. Their second set of analyses, designed to mimic the MiniBoone selection, are slightly more general. They require one electron and any number of protons, but no pions. Their third analysis is the most general and requires an electron along with anything else. 

These different analyses have different levels of sensitivity to the MiniBoone anomaly, but all of them are found to be consistent with a background-only hypothesis: there is no sign of any excess events. Three out of four of them even see slightly less events than the expected background. 

A summary of the different MicroBoone analyses. The Y-axis shows the ratio of observed to expected number of events expected if there was only background present. The red lines show the excess predicted to be seen if the MiniBoone anomaly produced a signal in each channel. One can see that the black data points are much more consistent with the grey bands showing the background only prediction than amount predicted if the MiniBoone anomaly was present.

Overall the MicroBoone data rejects the hypothesis that the MiniBoone anomaly is due to electron neutrino charged current interactions at quite high significance (>3sigma). So if its not electron neutrinos causing the MiniBoone anomaly, what is it?

What’s Going On?

Given that MicroBoone did not see any signal, many would guess that MiniBoone’s claim of an excess must be flawed and they have underestimated one of their backgrounds. Unfortunately it is not very clear what that could be. If you look at the low-energy region where MiniBoone has an excess, there are three major background sources: decays of the Delta baryon that produce a photon (shown in tan), neutral pions decaying to pairs of photons (shown in red), and backgrounds from true electron neutrinos (shown in various shades of green). However all of these sources of background seem quite unlikely to be the source of the MiniBoone anomaly.

Before releasing these results, MicroBoone performed a dedicated search for Delta baryons decaying into photons, and saw a rate in agreement with the theoretical prediction MiniBoone used, and well below the amount needed to explain the MiniBoone excess.

Backgrounds from true electron neutrinos produced in the beam, as well as from the decays of muons, should not concentrate only at low energies like the excess does, and their rate has also been measured within MiniBoone data by looking at other signatures.

The decay of a neutral pions can produce two photons, and if one of them escapes detection, a single photon will mimic their signal. However one would expect that it would be more likely that photons would escape the detector near its edges, but the excess events are distributed uniformly in the detector volume.

So now the mystery of what could be causing this excess is even greater. If it is a background, it seems most likely it is from an unknown source not previously considered. As will be discussed in our part 2 post, its possible that MiniBoone anomaly was caused by a more exotic form of new physics; possibly the excess events in MiniBoone were not really coming from the scattering of electron neutrinos but something else that produced a similar signature in their detector. Some of these explanations included particles that decayed into pairs of electrons or photons. These sorts of explanations should be testable with MicroBoone data but will require dedicated analyses for their different signatures.

So on the experimental side, we now we are left to scratch our heads and wait for new results from MicroBoone that may help get to the bottom of this.

Click here for part 2 of our MicroBoone coverage that goes over the theory side of the story!

Read More

Is the Great Neutrino Puzzle Pointing to Multiple Missing Particles?” – Quanta Magazine article on the new MicroBoone result

“Can MiniBoone be Right?” – Resonaances blog post summarizing the MiniBoone anomaly prior to the the MicroBoone results

A review of different types of neutrino detectors – from the T2K experiment