The 37th International Conference on High Energy Physics just finished in Valencia, Spain. This year, no big surprises were announced: no new boson, no signs from new particles or clear phenomena revealing the nature of dark matter or new theories such as Supersymmetry. But as always, a few small anomalies were reported.
Looking for deviations from the theoretical predictions is precisely how experimentalists are trying to find a way to reveal “new physics”. It would help discover a more encompassing theory since everybody realises the current theoretical model, the Standard Model, has its limits and must be superseded by something else. However, all physicists know that small deviations often come and go. All measurements made in physics follow statistical laws. Therefore deviations from the expected value by one standard deviation occur in three measurements out of ten. Larger deviations are less common but still possible. A two standard deviation happens 5% of the time. Then there are systematic uncertainties that relate to the experimental equipment. These are not purely statistical, but can be improved with a better understanding of our detectors. The total experimental uncertainty quoted with each result corresponds to one standard variation. Here are two small anomalies reported at this conference that attracted attention this year.
The ATLAS Collaboration showed its preliminary result on the production of a pair of W bosons. Measuring this rate provides excellent checks of the Standard Model since theorists can predict how often pairs of W bosons are produced when protons collide in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The production rate depends on the energy released during these collisions. So far, two measurements can be made since the LHC operated at two different energies, namely 7 TeV and 8 TeV.
CMS and ATLAS had already released their results on their 7 TeV data. The measured rates exceeded slightly the theoretical prediction but were both well within their experimental error with a deviation of 1.0 and 1.4 standard deviation, respectively. CMS had also published results based on about 20% of all data collected at 8 TeV. It exceeded slightly the theoretical prediction by 1.7 standard deviation. The latest ATLAS result adds one more element to the picture. It is based on the full 8 TeV data sample. Now ATLAS reports a slightly stronger deviation for this rate at 8 TeV with 2.1 standard deviations from the theoretical prediction.
The four experimental measurements for the WW production rate (black dots) with the experimental uncertainty (horizontal bar) as well as the current theoretical prediction (blue triangle) with its own uncertainty (blue strip). One can see that all measurements are higher than the current prediction, indicating that the theoretical calculation fails to include everything.
The four individual measurements are each reasonably consistent with expectation, but the fact that all four measurements lie above the predictions becomes intriguing. Most likely, this means that theorists have not yet taken into account all the small corrections required by the Standard Model to precisely determine this rate. This would be like having forgotten a few small expenses in one’s budget, leading to an unexplained deficit at the end of the month. Moreover, there could be common factors in the experimental uncertainties, which would lower the overall significance of this anomaly. But if the theoretical predictions remain what they are even when adding all possible little corrections, it could indicate the existence of new phenomena, which would be exciting. It would then be something to watch for when the LHC resumes operation in 2015 at 13 TeV.
The CMS Collaboration presented another intriguing result. They found some events consistent with coming from a decay of a Higgs boson into a tau and a muon. Such decays are prohibited in the Standard Model since they violate lepton flavour conservation. There are three “flavours” or types of charged leptons (a category of fundamental particles): the electron, the muon and the tau. Each one comes with its own type of neutrinos. According to all observations made so far, leptons are always produced either with their own neutrino or with their antiparticle. Hence, the decay of a Higgs boson in leptons should always produce a charged lepton and its antiparticle, but never two charged leptons of different flavour. Violating a conservation laws in particle physics is simply not allowed.
This needs to be scrutinised with more data, which will be possible when the LHC resumes next year. Lepton flavour violation is allowed outside the Standard Model in various models such as models with more than one Higgs doublet or composite Higgs models or Randall-Sundrum models of extra dimensions for example. So if both ATLAS and CMS confirm this trend as a real effect, it would be a small revolution.
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