Two years ago, physicists working on the Large Hadron Collider first announced the discovery of a Higgs boson-like particle, setting the high-energy physics community atwitter. And it was only a couple weeks ago that physicists also announced that the particle was definitely the one predicted by the sturdy Standard Model of particle physics, the theory that governs the Higgs boson’s properties and behavior.
But new results from the ongoing International Conference on High Energy Physics in Valencia, Spain, could add a twist to this plot. Physicists announced that they had evidence – albeit not strong enough – that the Higgs boson was showing signs of disobeying the model.
Members of the ATLAS and CMS collaborations, who work with the detectors of that name, said they had results showing the Higgs boson was decaying into a pair of particles called W bosons at a rate some 20% higher than predicted by the Standard Model. This non-compliance will be a breath of fresh air for physicists who have been faithful to a potent but as yet unobserved theory of new physics called supersymmetry, in short and fondly SUSY.
The W boson mediates the decay of radioactive substances in nature. At sufficiently high energies, such as produced inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), these bosons are produced by a multitude of particle interactions. Since their discovery in 1983, they have been widely studied. In these circumstances, announcing signs of SUSY through Higgs decays into WW pairs provides little room for uncertainties.
SUSY predicts that for every fermion, or matter particle, of the Standard Model there is a partner particle that is a boson called a sfermion. Conversely, for every boson, or force particle, of the Standard Model there is a partner particle that is a fermion called a bosino. Physicists who believe SUSY is a plausible theory use these extra particles to solve problems that the Standard Model can’t. One of them is that of dark matter; another is to explain why the Higgs boson weighs much lighter than it should.
Jong Soo Kim et al have described how the anomalous decay rates could be explained using a simple version of SUSY in a pre-print paper uploaded to arXiv on June 27. The paper is playfully titled ‘Stop that ambulance! New physics at the LHC?‘. The ‘Stop’ is a reference to the name of the suppersymmetric partner of the top quark. The authors describe how a combination of supersymmetric particles including the stop boson could explain the new results with only a 1-in-370 chance of error. Even though this means physicists have a confidence of 99.7% in the results, it’s still not high to claim evidence. When the LHC comes online in 2015, physicists will be eager to put these results to the test.
The paper’s title might also refer to a comment that physicist Chris Parkes, spokesperson for the UK participation in the LHCB experiment at the LHC, made to the BBC during the Hadron Collider Physics Symposium in Kyoto, Japan, in November 2012. Results had been announced of the B_s meson decaying into lighter particles at a rate predicted exactly by the Standard Model, nudging SUSY further toward impossibility. Parkes had said, “Supersymmetry may not be dead but these latest results have certainly put it into hospital.”