Surprise W boson measurement could rewrite particle physics

A tiny subatomic particle called a W boson could be heavier than scientists previously thought and could upend the big one theory of everything.

Scientists at the US’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have spent 10 years analyzing mass measurements of the W boson, a lesser-known “sister particle” of the The Higgs boson which plays a role in radioactive decay. They discovered that the particle is a little heavier than the theories of physics expected. And that, say the scientists in a reportis quite important, as it contradicts the so-called standard modela fundamental theory of physics describing how the world on a microscopic scale fits together.

“It’s now up to the theoretical physics community and other experiments to follow up and shed light on this mystery,” project member Texas A&M University physicist David Toback said in a statement. . “If the difference between the experimental value and the expected value is due to some sort of new particle or subatomic interaction, which is one of the possibilities, chances are it’s something that can be discovered. in future experiments.

Related: 10 mind-boggling things you should know about quantum physics

Some critics warn that further experiments would be needed to verify these results, because questioning the “bible” of particle physics is a bold prospect.

The scientists behind the latest measurements, however, are quite confident in their results.

“The number of improvements and additional verifications made to our result is enormous,” Ashutosh V. Kotwal of Duke University, who led the work, said in the release. “We took into account our better understanding of our particle detector as well as advances in theoretical and experimental understanding of the interactions of the W boson with other particles.”

The scientists based their calculations on measurements from Fermilab’s Tevatron collider made between 1985 and 2011. They then spent the next decade analyzing the data. A total of 4.2 million observations of candidate W boson particles were included in the analysis, about four times the number used in previous estimates published by the team in 2012.

The new estimate is accurate to within 0.01%, the scientists said in the statement.

The results were published in a paper (opens in a new tab) in the journal Science Thursday, April 7.

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