A symphony of data

Article title: “MUSiC: a model unspecific search for new physics in
proton-proton collisions at \sqrt{s} = 13 TeV”

Authors: The CMS Collaboration

Reference: https://arxiv.org/abs/2010.02984

First of all, let us take care of the spoilers: no new particles or phenomena have been found… Having taken this concern away, let us focus on the important concept behind MUSiC.

ATLAS and CMS, the two largest experiments using collisions at the LHC, are known as “general purpose experiments” for a good reason. They were built to look at a wide variety of physical processes and, up to now, each has checked dozens of proposed theoretical extensions of the Standard Model, in addition to checking the Model itself. However, in almost all cases their searches rely on definite theory predictions and focus on very specific combinations of particles and their kinematic properties. In this way, the experiments may still be far from utilizing their full potential. But now an algorithm named MUSiC is here to help.

MUSiC takes all events recorded by CMS that comprise of clean-cut particles and compares them against the expectations from the Standard Model, untethering itself from narrow definitions for the search conditions.

We should clarify here that an “event” is the result of an individual proton-proton collision (among the many happening each time the proton bunches cross), consisting of a bouquet of particles. First of all, MUSiC needs to work with events with particles that are well-recognized by the experiment’s detectors, to cut down on uncertainty. It must also use particles that are well-modeled, because it will rely on the comparison of data to simulation and, so, wants to be sure about the accuracy of the latter.

Display of an event with two muons at CMS. (Source: CMS experiment)

All this boils down to working with events with combinations of specific, but several, particles: electrons, muons, photons, hadronic jets from light-flavour (=up, down, strange) quarks or gluons and from bottom quarks, and deficits in the total transverse momentum (typically the signature of the uncatchable neutrinos or perhaps of unknown exotic particles). And to make things even more clean-cut, it keeps only events that include either an electron or a muon, both being well-understood characters.

These particles’ combinations result in hundreds of different “final states” caught by the detectors. However, they all correspond to only a dozen combos of particles created in the collisions according to the Standard Model, before some of them decay to lighter ones. For them, we know and simulate pretty well what we expect the experiment to measure.

MUSiC proceeded by comparing three kinematic quantities of these final states, as measured by CMS during the year 2016, to their simulated values. The three quantities of interest are the combined mass, combined transverse momentum and combined missing transverse momentum. It’s in their distributions that new particles would most probably show up, regardless of which theoretical model they follow. The range of values covered is pretty wide. All in all, the method extends the kinematic reach of usual searches, as it also does with the collection of final states.

An example distribution from MUSiC: Transverse mass for the final state comprising of one muon and missing transverse momentum. Color histograms: Simulated Standard Model processes. Red line: Signal from a hypothetical W’ boson with mass of 3TeV. (Source: paper)

So the kinematic distributions are checked against the simulated expectations in an automatized way, with MUSiC looking for every physicist’s dream: deviations. Any deviation from the simulation, meaning either fewer or more recorded events, is quantified by getting a probability value. This probability is calculated by also taking into account the much dreaded “look elsewhere effect”. (Which comes from the fact that, statistically, in a large number of distributions a random fluctuation that will mimic a genuine deviation is bound to appear sooner or later.)

When all’s said and done the collection of probabilities is overviewed. The MUSiC protocol says that any significant deviation will be scrutinized with more traditional methods – only that this need never actually arose in the 2016 data: all the data played along with the Standard Model, in all 1,069 examined final states and their kinematic ranges.

For the record, the largest deviation was spotted in the final state comprising three electrons, two generic hadronic jets and one jet coming from a bottom quark. Seven events were counted whereas the simulation gave 2.7±1.8 events (mostly coming from the production of a top plus an anti-top quark plus an intermediate vector boson from the collision; the fractional values are due to extrapolating to the amount of collected data). This excess was not seen in other related final states, “related” in that they also either include the same particles or have one less. Everything pointed to a fluctuation and the case was closed.

However, the goal of MUSiC was not strictly to find something new, but rather to demonstrate a method for model un-specific searches with collisions data. The mission seems to be accomplished, with CMS becoming even more general-purpose.

Read more:

Another generic search method in ATLAS: Going Rogue: The Search for Anything (and Everything) with ATLAS

And a take with machine learning: Letting the Machines Seach for New Physics

Fancy checking a good old model-specific search? Uncovering a Higgs Hiding Behind Backgrounds