According to the Standard Model of particle physics, beauty quarks (also known as bottom quarks) should decay into either muons or electrons in equal measure.
However, in a recent experiment conducted as part of LHCb – one of the four projects at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN near Geneva – researchers have found something that apparently contradicts our current understanding of fundamental particles.
The experiment has shown that beauty quarks do not, in fact, decay in the manner predicted by the Standard Model, which, if confirmed, would have serious implications for the way that physics currently views the dynamics that govern our Universe.
“We were actually shaking when we first looked at the results, we were that excited. Our hearts did beat a bit faster,” said Dr Mitesh Patel from Imperial College London, one of the researchers behind the experiment.
The latest test conducted at the Large Hadron Collider beauty experiment could challenge the Standard Model of particle physics. Image courtesy of CERN
“It’s too early to say if this genuinely is a deviation from the Standard Model, but the potential implications are such that these results are the most exciting thing I’ve done in 20 years in the field. It has been a long journey to get here.”
The Standard Model holds that electrons and their heavier “cousins” muons interact with all natural forces in the same manner, which should lead to beauty quarks decaying into muons at the same rate as they do into electrons.
And yet, the latest experiment has found differential rates of decay, suggesting the presence of a new particle(s), interactions or forces that haven’t been observed in any of the previous experiments at either of the four projects at CERN.
The result, already published as a pre-print, is three standard deviations – meaning there is a 1 in 1,000 chance of it being a fluke, as opposed to five standard deviations (or 1 in 3.5 million chance of the result being a fluke), considered to be the gold standard of discovery in physics.
Before a confirmation or a disconfirmation is issued, the LHCb collaboration will collate and analyse more data to see whether the finding stands up to scrutiny or eventually gets drowned out in noise.
“While we have to wait for confirmation of these results, I hope that we might one day look back on this as a turning point, where we started to answer some of these fundamental questions [about dark matter, anti-matter, and other current mysteries],” said collaborator on the experiment Dr Michael McCann from Imperial College London.