The first measurement of decay, of around 3.2 per billion, is as predicted

On November 12, at the first day of the Hadron Collider Physics Symposium at Kyoto, Japan, researchers presented a handful of results that constrained the number of hiding places for a promising new theory.

Members of the team from the LHCb detector on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiment located on the border of France and Switzerland provided evidence of a very rare particle-decay. The rate of the decay process was in fair agreement with an older theory of particles’ properties, called the Standard Model (SM), and deviated from the new theory, called Supersymmetry.

“Theorists have calculated that, in the Standard Model, this decay should occur about 3 times in every billion total decays of the particle,” announced Pierluigi Campana, LHCb spokesperson.

“This first measurement gives a value of around 3.2 per billion, which is in very good agreement with the prediction.”

The result was presented at the 3.5-sigma confidence level, which corresponds to an error rate of 1-in-2,000. While not strong enough to claim discovery, it is valid as evidence.

The particle, called a B_s meson, decayed from a bottom antiquark and strange quark pair into two muons.

According to the SM, this is a complex and indirect decay process: the quarks exchange a W boson particle, turn into a top-antitop quark pair, which then decays into a Z boson or a Higgs boson. The boson then decays to two muons.

This indirect decay is called a quantum loop, and advanced theories like Supersymmetry predict new, short-lived particles to appear in such loops. The LHCb, which detected the decays, reported no such new particles.

At the same time, in June 2011, the LHCb had announced that it had spotted hints of supersymmetric particles at 3.9-sigma. Thus, scientists will continue to conduct tests until they can stack 3.5 million-to-1 odds for or against Supersymmetry to close the case.

As Prof. Chris Parkes, spokesperson for the UK participation in the LHCb experiment, told BBC News: “Supersymmetry may not be dead but these latest results have certainly put it into hospital.”

The symposium, which concluded on November 16, also saw the release of the first batch of data generated in search of the Higgs boson since the initial announcement on July 4 this year.

The LHC can’t observe the Higgs boson directly because it quickly decays into lighter particles. So, physicists count up the lighter particles and try to see if some of those could have come from a momentarily existent Higgs.

Still early days

These are still early days, but the data seems consistent with the predicted properties of the elusive particle, giving further strength to the validity of the SM.

Dr. Rahul Sinha, a physicist at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, said, “So far there is nothing in the Higgs data that indicates that it is not the Higgs of Standard Model, but a conclusive statement cannot be made as yet.”

Scientists, however, are disappointed as there are fewer channels for new physics to occur. While the SM is fairly consistent with experimental findings, it is still unable to explain some fundamental problems.

Commenting on the results, Dr. G. Rajasekaran, scientific adviser to the India-based Neutrino Observatory being built at Theni, asked for patience. “Supersymmetry implies the existence of a whole new world of particles equalling our known world. Remember, we took a hundred years to discover the known particles starting with the electron.”

With each such tightening of the leash, physicists return to the drawing board and consider new possibilities, apart from hoping that the initial results aren’t accurate enough.

“We now plan to continue analysing data to improve the accuracy of this measurement and others which could show effects of new physics,” said Campana.

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