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  • richardmitnick 2:25 pm on April 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Proton-proton collisions, , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “A tiny droplet of the early universe?” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Sarah Charley

    Particles seen by the ALICE experiment hint at the formation of quark-gluon plasma during proton-proton collisions. [ALREADY COVERED WITH AN ARTICLE FROM CERN HERE.]

    Mona Schweizer, CERN

    About 13.8 billion years ago, the universe was a hot, thick soup of quarks and gluons—the fundamental components that eventually combined into protons, neutrons and other hadrons.

    Scientists can produce this primitive particle soup, called the quark-gluon plasma, in collisions between heavy ions. But for the first time physicists on an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider have observed particle evidence of its creation in collisions between protons as well.

    The LHC collides protons during the majority of its run time. This new result, published in Nature Physics by the ALICE collaboration, challenges long-held notions about the nature of those proton-proton collisions and about possible phenomena that were previously missed.

    “Many people think that protons are too light to produce this extremely hot and dense plasma,” says Livio Bianchi, a postdoc at the University of Houston who worked on this analysis. “But these new results are making us question this assumption.”

    Scientists at the LHC and at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC, have previously created quark-gluon plasma in gold-gold and lead-lead collisions.

    BNL RHIC Campus

    BNL/RHIC Star


    CERN/LHC Map

    CERN LHC Tunnel


    In the quark gluon plasma, mid-sized quarks—such as strange quarks—freely roam and eventually bond into bigger, composite particles (similar to the way quartz crystals grow within molten granite rocks as they slowly cool). These hadrons are ejected as the plasma fizzles out and serve as a telltale signature of their soupy origin. ALICE researchers noticed numerous proton-proton collisions emitting strange hadrons at an elevated rate.

    “In proton collisions that produced many particles, we saw more hadrons containing strange quarks than predicted,” says Rene Bellwied, a professor at the University of Houston. “And interestingly, we saw an even bigger gap between the predicted number and our experimental results when we examined particles containing two or three strange quarks.”

    From a theoretical perspective, a proliferation of strange hadrons is not enough to definitively confirm the existence of quark-gluon plasma. Rather, it could be the result of some other unknown processes occurring at the subatomic scale.

    “This measurement is of great interest to quark-gluon-plasma researchers who wonder how a possible QGP signature can arise in proton-proton collisions,” says Urs Wiedemann, a theorist at CERN. “But it is also of great interest for high energy physicists who have never encountered such a phenomenon in proton-proton collisions.”

    Earlier research at the LHC found that the spatial orientation of particles produced during some proton-proton collisions mirrored the patterns created during heavy-ion collisions, suggesting that maybe these two types of collisions have more in common than originally predicted. Scientists working on the ALICE experiment will need to explore multiple characteristics of these strange proton-proton collisions before they can confirm if they are really seeing a miniscule droplet of the early universe.

    “Quark-gluon plasma is a liquid, so we also need to look at the hydrodynamic features,” Bianchi says. “The composition of the escaping particles is not enough on its own.”

    This finding comes from data collected the first run of the LHC between 2009 and 2013. More research over the next few years will help scientists determine whether the LHC can really make quark-gluon plasma in proton-proton collisions.

    “We are very excited about this discovery,” says Federico Antinori, spokesperson of the ALICE collaboration. “We are again learning a lot about this extreme state of matter. Being able to isolate the quark-gluon-plasma-like phenomena in a smaller and simpler system, such as the collision between two protons, opens up an entirely new dimension for the study of the properties of the primordial state that our universe emerged from.”

    Other experiments, such as those using RHIC, will provide more information about the observable traits and experimental characteristics of quark-gluon plasmas at lower energies, enabling researchers to gain a more complete picture of the characteristics of this primordial particle soup.

    “The field makes far more progress by sharing techniques and comparing results than we would be able to with one facility alone,” says James Dunlop, a researcher at RHIC. “We look forward to seeing further discoveries from our colleagues in ALICE.”

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 12:29 pm on April 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A new search to watch from LHCb, , , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “A new search to watch from LHCb” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Sarah Charley

    A new result from the LHCb experiment could be an early indicator of an inconsistency in the Standard Model.


    The subatomic universe is an intricate mosaic of particles and forces. The Standard Model of particle physics is a time-tested instruction manual that precisely predicts how particles and forces behave.

    The Standard Model of elementary particles (more schematic depiction), with the three generations of matter, gauge bosons in the fourth column, and the Higgs boson in the fifth.

    But it’s incomplete, ignoring phenomena such as gravity and dark matter.

    Today the LHCb experiment at CERN European research center released a result that could be an early indication of new, undiscovered physics beyond the Standard Model.

    However, more data is needed before LHCb scientists can definitively claim they’ve found a crack in the world’s most robust roadmap to the subatomic universe.

    “In particle physics, you can’t just snap your fingers and claim a discovery,” says Marie-Hélène Schune, a researcher on the LHCb experiment from Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Orsay, France. “It’s not magic. It’s long, hard work and you must be obstinate when facing problems. We always question everything and never take anything for granted.”

    The LHCb experiment records and analyzes the decay patterns of rare hadrons—particles made of quarks—that are produced in the Large Hadron Collider’s energetic proton-proton collisions.

    CERN/LHC Map

    CERN LHC Tube


    By comparing the experimental results to the Standard Model’s predictions, scientists can search for discrepancies. Significant deviations between the theory and experimental results could be an early indication of an undiscovered particle or force at play.

    This new result looks at hadrons containing a bottom quark as they transform into hadrons containing a strange quark. This rare decay pattern can generate either two electrons or two muons as byproducts. Electrons and muons are different types or “flavors” of particles called leptons. The Standard Model predicts that the production of electrons and muons should be equally favorable—essentially a subatomic coin toss every time this transformation occurs.

    “As far as the Standard Model is concerned, electrons, muons and tau leptons are completely interchangeable,” Schune says. “It’s completely blind to lepton flavors; only the large mass difference of the tau lepton plays a role in certain processes. This 50-50 prediction for muons and electrons is very precise.”

    But instead of finding a 50-50 ratio between muons and electrons, the latest results from the LHCb experiment show that it’s more like 40 muons generated for every 60 electrons.

    “If this initial result becomes stronger with more data, it could mean that there are other, invisible particles involved in this process that see flavor,” Schune says. “We’ll leave it up to the theorists’ imaginations to figure out what’s going on.”

    However, just like any coin-toss, it’s difficult to know if this discrepancy is the result of an unknown favoritism or the consequence of chance. To delineate between these two possibilities, scientists wait until they hit a certain statistical threshold before claiming a discovery, often 5 sigma.

    “Five sigma is a measurement of statistical deviation and means there is only a 1-in-3.5-million chance that the Standard Model is correct and our result is just an unlucky statistical fluke,” Schune says. “That’s a pretty good indication that it’s not chance, but rather the first sightings of a new subatomic process.”

    Currently, this new result is at approximately 2.5 standard deviations, which means there is about a 1-in-125 possibility that there’s no new physics at play and the experimenters are just the unfortunate victims of statistical fluctuation.

    This isn’t the first time that the LHCb experiment has seen unexpected behavior in related processes. Hassan Jawahery from the University of Maryland also works on the LHCb experiment and is studying another particle decay involving bottom quarks transforming into charm quarks. He and his colleagues are measuring the ratio of muons to tau leptons generated during this decay.

    “Correcting for the large mass differences between muons and tau leptons, we’d expect to see about 25 taus produced for every 100 muons,” Jawahery says. “We measured a ratio of 34 taus for every 100 muons.”

    On its own, this measurement is below the line of statistical significance needed to raise an eyebrow. However, two other experiments—the BaBar experiment at SLAC and the Belle experiment in Japan—also measured this process and saw something similar.

    “We might be seeing the first hints of a new particle or force throwing its weight around during two independent subatomic processes,” Jawahery says. “It’s tantalizing, but as experimentalists we are still waiting for all these individual results to grow in significance before we get too excited.”

    More data and improved experimental techniques will help the LHCb experiment and its counterparts narrow in on these processes and confirm if there really is something funny happening behind the scenes in the subatomic universe.

    “Conceptually, these measurements are very simple,” Schune says. “But practically, they are very challenging to perform. These first results are all from data collected between 2011 and 2012 during Run 1 of the LHC. It will be intriguing to see if data from Run 2 shows the same thing.”

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 2:58 pm on April 11, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Brookhaven, , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “What’s left to learn about antimatter?” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Sarah Charley

    BBC Focus Magazine

    What do shrimp, tennis balls and pulsars all have in common? They are all made from matter.

    Admittedly, that answer is a cop-out, but it highlights a big, persistent quandary for scientists: Why is everything made from matter when there is a perfectly good substitute—antimatter?

    The European laboratory CERN hosts several experiments to ascertain the properties of antimatter particles, which almost never survive in our matter-dominated world.

    Particles (such as the proton and electron) have oppositely charged antimatter doppelgangers (such as the antiproton and antielectron). Because they are opposite but equal, a matter particle and its antimatter partner annihilate when they meet.

    Antimatter wasn’t always rare. Theoretical and experimental research suggests that there was an equal amount of matter and antimatter right after the birth of our universe. But 13.8 billion years later, only matter-made structures remain in the visible universe.

    Scientists have found small differences between the behavior of matter and antimatter particles, but not enough to explain the imbalance that led antimatter to disappear while matter perseveres. Experiments at CERN are working to solve that riddle using three different strategies.

    No image caption. No image credit. http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/antimatterfuel.php

    Antimatter under the microscope

    It’s well known that CERN is home to Large Hadron Collider, the world’s highest-energy particle accelerator. Less known is that CERN also hosts the world’s most powerful particle decelerator—a machine that slows down antiparticles to a near standstill.

    Paving the way for a new antimatter experiment. The GBAR experiment will create antihydrogen ions at rest to study the action of gravity upon antimatter. 13 March 2017 | Author Iva Raynova | Tagged antimatter, ELENA, Antiproton Decelerator, gravity

    The antiproton decelerator is fed by CERN’s accelerator complex. A beam of energetic protons is diverted from CERN’s Proton Synchrotron and into a metal wall, spawning a multitude of new particles, including some antiprotons. The antiprotons are focused into a particle beam and slowed by electric fields inside the antiproton decelerator. From here they are fed into various antimatter experiments, which trap the antiprotons inside powerful magnetic fields.

    “All these experiments are trying to find differences between matter and antimatter that are not predicted by theory,” says Will Bertsche, a researcher at University of Manchester, who works in CERN’s antimatter factory. “We’re all trying to address the big question: Why is the universe made up of matter these days and not antimatter?”

    By cooling and trapping antimatter, scientists can intimately examine its properties without worrying that their particles will spontaneously encounter a matter companion and disappear. Some of the traps can preserve antiprotons for more than a year. Scientists can also combine antiprotons with positrons (antielectrons) to make antihydrogen.

    “Antihydrogen is fascinating because it lets us see how antimatter interacts with itself,” Bertsche says. “We’re getting a glimpse at how a mirror antimatter universe would behave.”

    Scientists in CERN’s antimatter factory have measured the mass, charge, light spectrum, and magnetic properties of antiprotons and antihydrogen to high precision. They also look at how antihydrogen atoms are affected by gravity; that is, do the anti-atoms fall up or down? One experiment is even trying to make an assortment of matter-antimatter hybrids, such as a helium atom in which one of the electrons is replaced with an orbiting antiproton.

    So far, all their measurements of trapped antimatter match the theory: Except for the opposite charge and spin, antimatter appears completely identical to matter. But these affirmative results don’t deter Bertsche from looking for antimatter surprises. There must be unpredicted disparities between these particle twins that can explain why matter won its battle with antimatter in the early universe.

    “There’s something missing in this model,” Bertsche says. “And nobody is sure what that is.”

    Antimatter in motion

    The LHCb experiment wants to answer this same question, but they are looking at antimatter particles that are not trapped.


    Instead, LHCb scientists study how free-range antimatter particles behave as they travel and transform inside the detector.

    “We’re recording how unstable matter and antimatter particles decay into showers of particles and the patterns they leave behind when they do,” says Sheldon Stone, a professor at Syracuse University working on the LHCb Experiment. “We can’t make these measurements if the particles aren’t moving.”

    The particles-in-motion experiments have already observed some small differences between matter and antimatter particles. In 1964 scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory noticed that neutral kaons (a particle containing a strange and down quark) decay into matter and antimatter particles at slightly different rates, an observation that won them the Nobel Prize in 1980.

    Brookhaven. Two spectrometer magnets. No image credit

    The LHCb experiment continues this legacy, looking for even more discrepancies between the metamorphoses of matter and antimatter particles. They recently observed that the daughter particles of certain antimatter baryons (particles containing three quarks) have a slightly different spatial orientation than their matter contemporaries.

    But even with the success of uncovering these discrepancies, scientists are still very far from understanding why antimatter all but disappeared.

    “Theory tells us that we’re still off by nine orders of magnitude,” Stone says, “so we’re left asking, where is it? What is antimatter’s Achilles heel that precipitated its disappearance?”

    Antimatter in space

    Most antimatter experiments based at CERN produce antiparticles by accelerating and colliding protons. But one experiment is looking for feral antimatter freely roaming through outer space.

    The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is an international experiment supported by the US Department of Energy and NASA.

    AMS 02 schematic

    This particle detector was assembled at CERN and is now installed on the International Space Station, where it orbits Earth 400 kilometers above the surface. It records the momentum and trajectory of roughly a billion vagabond particles every month, including a million antimatter particles.

    Nomadic antimatter nuclei could be lonely relics from the Big Bang or the rambling residue of nuclear fusion in antimatter stars.

    But AMS searches for phenomena not explained by our current models of the cosmos. One of its missions is to look for antimatter that is so complex and robust, there is no way it could have been produced through normal particle collisions in space.

    “Most scientists accept that antimatter disappeared from our universe because it is somehow less resilient than matter,” says Mike Capell, a researcher at MIT and a deputy spokesperson of the AMS experiment. “But we’re asking, what if all the antimatter never disappeared? What if it’s still out there?”

    If an antimatter kingdom exists, astronomers expect that they would observe mass particle-annihilation fizzing and shimmering at its boundary with our matter-dominated space—which they don’t. Not yet, at least. Because our universe is so immense (and still expanding), researchers on AMS hypothesize that maybe these intersections are too dim or distant for our telescopes.

    “We already have trouble seeing deep into our universe,” Capell says. “Because we’ve never seen a domain where matter meets antimatter, we don’t know what it would look like.”

    AMS has been collecting data for six years. From about 100 billion cosmic rays, they’ve identified a few strange events with characteristics of antihelium. Because the sample is so tiny, it’s impossible to say whether these anomalous events are the first messengers from an antimatter galaxy or simply part of the chaotic background.

    “It’s an exciting result,” Capell says. “However, we remain skeptical. We need data from many more cosmic rays before we can determine the identities of these anomalous particles.”

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 12:39 pm on April 4, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Symmetry Magazine,   

    From Symmetry: “WIMPs in the dark matter wind” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Lori Ann White

    No image credit found

    We know which way the dark matter wind should blow. Now we just have to find it.

    Picture yourself in a car, your hand surfing the breeze through the open window. Hold your palm perpendicular to the wind and you can feel its force. Now picture the car slowing, rolling up to a stop sign, and feel the force of the wind lessen until it—and the car—stop.

    This wind isn’t due to the weather. It arises because of your motion relative to air molecules. Simple enough to understand and known to kids, dogs and road-trippers the world over.

    This wind has an analogue in the rarefied world of particle astrophysics called the “dark matter wind,” and scientists are hoping it will someday become a valuable tool in their investigations into that elusive stuff that apparently makes up about 85 percent of the mass in the universe [don’t forget this is just the mass, saying nothing about dark energy which is about 75% of everything] .

    n the analogy above, the air molecules are dark matter particles called WIMPs, or weakly interacting massive particles. Our sun is the car, racing around the Milky Way at about 220 kilometers per second, with the Earth riding shotgun. Together, we move through a halo of dark matter that encompasses our galaxy. But our planet is a rowdy passenger; it moves from one side of the sun to the other in its orbit.

    When you add the Earth’s velocity of 30 kilometers per second to the sun’s, as happens when both are traveling in the same direction (toward the constellation Cygnus), then the dark matter wind feels stronger. More WIMPs are moving through the planet than if it were at rest, resulting in greater number of detections by experiments. Subtract that velocity when the Earth is on the other side of its orbit, and the wind feels weaker, resulting in fewer detections.

    Astrophysicists have been thinking about the dark matter wind for decades. Among the first, way back in 1986, were theorist David Spergel of Princeton and colleagues Katherine Freese of the University of Michigan and Andrzej K. Drukier (now in private industry, but still looking for WIMPs).

    “We looked at how the Earth’s motion around the sun should cause the number of dark matter particles detected to vary on a regular basis by about 10 percent a year,” Spergel says.

    At least that’s what should happen—if our galaxy really is embedded in a circular, basically homogeneous halo of dark matter, and if dark matter is really made up of WIMPs.

    The Italian experiment DAMA/NaI and its upgrade DAMA/Libra claim to have been seeing this seasonal modulation for decades, a claim that has yet to be conclusively supported by any other experiments.

    DAMA LIBRA Dark Matter Experiment

    CoGeNT, an experiment in the Soudan Underground Laboratory in South Dakota, seemed to back them up for a time, but now the signals are thought to be caused by other sources such as high-energy gamma rays hitting a layer of material just outside the germanium of the detector, resulting in a signal that looks much like a WIMP.

    CoGeNT experiment

    Actually confirming the existence of the dark matter wind is important for one simple reason: the pattern of modulation can’t be explained by anything but the presence of dark matter. It’s what’s called a “model-independent” phenomenon. No natural backgrounds—no cosmic rays, no solar neutrinos, no radioactive decays—would show a similar modulation. The dark matter wind could provide a way to continue exploring dark matter, even if the particles are light enough that experiments cannot distinguish them from almost massless particles called neutrinos, which are constantly streaming from the sun and other sources.

    “It’s a big, big prize to go after,” says Jocelyn Monroe, a physics professor at Royal Holloway University of London, who currently works on two dark matter detection experiments, DEAP-3600 at SNOLAB, in Canada, and DMTPC. “If you could correlate detections with the direction in which the planet is moving you would have unambiguous proof” of dark matter.

    DEAP Dark Matter detector

    SNOLAB, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

    At the same time Spergel and his colleagues were exploring the wind’s seasonal modulation, he also realized that this correlation could extend far beyond a twice-per-year variation in detection levels. The location of the Earth in its orbit would affect the direction in which nucleons, the particles that make up the nucleus of an atom, recoil when struck by WIMPs. A sensitive-enough detector should see not only the twice-yearly variations, but even daily variations, since the detector constantly changes its orientation to the dark matter wind as the Earth rotates.

    “I had initially thought that it wasn’t worth writing up the paper because no experiment had the sensitivity to detect the recoil direction,” he says. “However, I realized that if I pointed out the effect, clever experimentalists would eventually figure out a way to detect it.”

    Monroe, as the leader of the DMTPC collaboration, is a member of the clever experimentalist set. The DMTPC, or Dark Matter Time-Projection Chamber, is one of a small number of direct detection experiments that are designed to track the actual movements of recoiling atoms.

    Instead of semiconductor crystals or liquefied noble gases, these experiments use low-pressure gases as their target material. DMTPC, for example, uses carbon tetrafluoride. If a WIMP hits a molecule of carbon tetrafluoride, the low pressure in the chamber means that molecule has room to move—up to about 2 millimeters.

    “Making the detector is super hard,” Monroe says. “It has to map a 2-millimeter track in 3D.” Not to mention reducing the number of molecules in a detector chamber reduces the chances for a dark matter particle to hit one. According to Monroe, DMTPC will deal with that issue by fabricating an array of 1-cubic-meter-sized modules. The first module has already been constructed and a worldwide collaboration of scientists from five different directional dark matter experiments (including DMTPC) are working on the next step together: a much larger directional dark matter array called the CYGNUS (for CosmoloGY with NUclear recoilS) experiment.

    When and if such directional dark matter detectors raise their metaphorical fingers to test the direction of the dark matter wind, Monroe says they’ll be able to see far more than just seasonal variations in detections. Scientists will be able to see variations in atomic recoils not on a seasonal basis, but on a daily basis. Monroe envisions a sort of dark matter telescope with which to study the structure of the halo in our little corner of the Milky Way.

    Or not.

    There’s always a chance that this next generation of dark matter detectors, or the generation after, still won’t see anything.

    Even that, Monroe says, is progress.

    “If we’re still looking in 10 years we might be able to say it’s not WIMPs but something even more exotic As far as we can tell right now, dark matter has got to be something new out there.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 12:56 pm on March 28, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “How to make a discovery” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Ali Sundermier

    Artwork by Sandbox Studio, Chicago

    Meenakshi Narain, a professor of physics at Brown University, remembers working on the DZero experiment at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago in the winter of 1994.

    FNAL/Tevatron DZero detector

    She would bring blankets up to her fifth-floor office to keep warm as she sat at her computer going through data in search of the then-undiscovered top quark.

    For weeks, her group had been working on deciphering some extra background that originally had not been accounted for. Their conclusions contradicted the collaboration’s original assumptions.

    Narain, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the time, talked to her advisor about sharing the group’s result. Her advisor told her that if she had followed the scientific method and was confident in her result, she should talk about it.

    “I had a whole sequence of logic and explanation prepared,” Narain says. “When I presented it, I remember everybody was very supportive. I had expected some pushback or some criticism and nothing like that happened.”

    This, she says, is the scientific process: A multitude of steps designed to help us explore the world we live in.

    “In the end the process wins. It’s not about you or me, because we’re all going after the same thing. We want to discover that particle or phenomenon or whatever else is out there collaboratively. That’s the goal.”

    Narain’s group’s analysis was essential to the collaboration’s understanding of a signal that turned out to be the elusive top quark.

    Artwork by Sandbox Studio, Chicago

    The modern hypothesis

    “The scientific method was not invented overnight,” says Joseph Incandela, vice chancellor for research at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “People used to think completely differently. They thought if it was beautiful it had to be true. It took many centuries for people to realize that this is how you must approach the acquisition of true knowledge that you can verify.”

    For particle physicists, says Robert Cahn, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the scientific method isn’t so much going from hypothesis to conclusion, but rather “an exploration in which we measure with as much precision as possible a variety of quantities that we hope will reveal something new.

    “We build a big accelerator and we might have some ideas of what we might discover, but it’s not as if we say, ‘Here’s the hypothesis and we’re going to prove or disprove it. If there’s a scientific method, it’s something much broader than that.”

    Scientific inquiry is more of a continuing conversation between theorists and experimentalists, says Chris Quigg, a distinguished scientist emeritus at Fermilab.

    “Theorists in particular spend a lot of time telling stories, making up ideas or elaborating ideas about how something might happen,” he says. “There’s an evolution of our ideas as we engage in dialogue with experiments.”

    An important part of the process, he adds, is that the scientists are trained never to believe their own stories until they have experimental support.

    “We are often reluctant to take our ideas too seriously because we’re schooled to think about ideas as tentative,” Quigg says. “It’s a very good thing to be tentative and to have doubt. Otherwise you think you know all the answers, and you should be doing something else.”

    It’s also good to be tentative because “sometimes we see something that looks tantalizingly like a great discovery, and then it turns out not to be,” Cahn says.

    At the end of 2015, hints appeared in the data of the two general-purpose experiments at the Large Hadron Collider that scientists had stumbled upon a particle 750 times as massive as a proton. The hints prompted more than 500 scientific papers, each trying to tell the story behind the bump in the data.

    “It’s true that if you simply want to minimize wasting your time, you will ignore all such hints until they [reach the traditional uncertainty threshold of] 5 sigma,” Quigg said. “But it’s also true that as long as they’re not totally flaky, as long as it looks possibly true, then it can be a mind-expanding exercise.”

    In the case of the 750-GeV bump, Quigg says, you could tell a story in which such a thing might exist and wouldn’t contradict other things that we knew.

    “It helps to take it from just an unconnected observation to something that’s linked to everything else,” Quigg says. “That’s really one of the beauties of scientific theories, and specifically the current state of particle physics. Every new observation is linked to everything else we know, including all the old observations. It’s important that we have enough of a network of observation and interpretation that any new thing has to make sense in the context of other things.”

    After collecting more data, physicists eventually ruled out the hints, and the theorists moved on to other ideas.

    The importance of uncertainty

    But sometimes an idea makes it further than that. Much of the work scientists put into publishing a scientific result involves figuring out how well they know it: What’s the uncertainty and how do we quantify it?

    “If there’s any hallmark to the scientific method in particle physics and in closely related fields like cosmology, it’s that our results always come with an error bar,” Cahn says. “A result that doesn’t have an uncertainty attached to it has no value.”

    In a particle physics experiment, some uncertainty comes from background, like the data Narain’s group found that mimicked the kind of signal they were looking for from the top quark.

    This is called systematic uncertainty, which is typically introduced by aspects of the experiment that cannot be completely known.

    “When you build a detector, you must make sure that for whatever signal you’re going to see, there is not much possibility to confuse it with the background,” says Helio Takai, a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. “All the elements and sensors and electronics are designed having that in mind. You have to use your previous knowledge from all the experiments that came before.”

    Careful study of your systematic uncertainties is the best way to eliminate bias and get reliable results.

    “If you underestimate your systematic uncertainty, then you can overestimate the significance of the signal,” Narain says. “But if you overestimate the systematic uncertainty, then you can kill your signal. So, you really are walking this fine line in understanding where the issues may be. There are various ways the data can fool you. Trying to be aware of those ways is an art in itself and it really defines the thinking process.”

    Physicists also must think about statistical uncertainty which, unlike systematic uncertainty, is simply the consequence having a limited amount of data.

    “For every measurement we do, there’s a possibility that the measurement is a wrong measurement just because of all the events that happen at random while we are doing the experiment,” Takai says. “In particle physics, you’re producing many particles, so a lot of these particles may conspire and make it appear like the event you’re looking for.”

    You can think of it as putting your hand inside a bag of M&Ms, Takai says. If the first few M&Ms you picked were brown and you didn’t know there were other colors, you would think the entire bag was brown. It wouldn’t be until you finally pulled out a blue M&M that you realized that the bag had more than one color.

    Particle physicists generally want their results to have a statistical significance corresponding to at least 5 sigma, a measure that means that there is only a 0.00003 percent chance of a statistical fluctuation giving an excess as big or bigger than the one observed.

    Artwork by Sandbox Studio, Chicago

    The scientific method at work

    One of the most stunning recent examples of the scientific method – careful consideration of statistical and systematic uncertainties coming together – was announced in 2012 at the moment the spokespersons for the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC revealed the discovery of the Higgs boson.

    CERN CMS Higgs Event

    CERN/CMS Detector

    CERN ATLAS Higgs Event

    CERN/ATLAS detector

    More than half a century of theory and experimentation led up to that moment. Experiments from the 1950s on had accumulated a wealth of information on particle interactions, but the interactions were only partially understood and seemed to come from disconnected sources.

    “But brilliant theoretical physicists found a way to make a single model that gave them a good description of all the known phenomena, says Incandela, who was spokesperson for the CMS experiment during the Higgs discovery. “It wasn’t guaranteed that the Higgs field existed. It was only guaranteed that this model works for everything we do and have already seen, and we needed to see if there really was a boson that we could find that could tell us in fact that that field is there.”

    This led to a generation-long effort to build an accelerator that would reach the extremely high energies needed to produce the Higgs boson, a particle born of the Higgs field, and then two gigantic detectors that could detect the Higgs boson if it appeared.

    Building two different detectors would allow scientists to double-check their work. If an identical signal appeared in two separate experiments run by two separate groups of physicists, chances were quite good that it was the real thing.

    “So there you saw a really beautiful application of the scientific method where we confirmed something that was incredibly difficult to confirm, but we did it incredibly well with a lot of fail-safes and a lot of outstanding experimental approaches,” Incandela says. “The scientific method was already deeply engrained in everything we did to the greatest extreme. And so we knew when we saw these things that they were real, and we had to take them seriously.”

    The scientific method is so engrained that scientists don’t often talk about it by name anymore, but implementing it “is what separates the great scientists from the average scientists from the poor scientists,” Incandela says. “It takes a lot of scrutiny and a deep understanding of what you’re doing.”

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 11:33 am on March 24, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: A new gem inside the CMS detector, , , , , , , , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “A new gem inside the CMS detector” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Sarah Charley

    Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    This month scientists embedded sophisticated new instruments in the heart of a Large Hadron Collider experiment.

    Sometimes big questions require big tools. That’s why a global community of scientists designed and built gigantic detectors to monitor the high-energy particle collisions generated by CERN’s Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland. From these collisions, scientists can retrace the footsteps of the Big Bang and search for new properties of nature.

    The CMS experiment is one such detector. In 2012, it co-discovered the elusive Higgs boson with its sister experiment, ATLAS. Now, scientists want CMS to push beyond the known laws of physics and search for new phenomena that could help answer fundamental questions about our universe. But to do this, the CMS detector needed an upgrade.

    “Just like any other electronic device, over time parts of our detector wear down,” says Steve Nahn, a researcher in the US Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the US project manager for the CMS detector upgrades. “We’ve been planning and designing this upgrade since shortly after our experiment first started collecting data in 2010.”

    The CMS detector is built like a giant onion. It contains layers of instruments that track the trajectory, energy and momentum of particles produced in the LHC’s collisions. The vast majority of the sensors in the massive detector are packed into its center, within what is called the pixel detector. The CMS pixel detector uses sensors like those inside digital cameras but with a lightning fast shutter speed: In three dimensions, they take 40 million pictures every second.

    For the last several years, scientists and engineers at Fermilab and 21 US universities have been assembling and testing a new pixel detector to replace the current one as part of the CMS upgrade, with funding provided by the Department of Energy Office of Science and National Science Foundation.

    Maral Alyari of SUNY Buffalo and Stephanie Timpone of Fermilab measure the thermal properties of a forward pixel detector disk at Fermilab. Almost all of the construction and testing of the forward pixel detectors occurred in the United States before the components were shipped to CERN for installation inside the CMS detector. Photo by Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

    Stephanie Timpone consults a cabling map while fellow engineers Greg Derylo and Otto Alvarez inspect a completed forward pixel disk. The cabling map guides their task of routing the the thin, flexible cables that connect the disk’s 672 silicon sensors to electronics boards. Maximilien Brice, CERN

    The CMS detector, located in a cavern 100 meters underground, is open for the pixel detector installation. Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    Postdoctoral researcher Stefanos Leontsinis and colleague Roland Horisberger work with a mock-up of one side of the barrel pixel detector next to the LHC’s beampipe.
    Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    Leontsinis watches the clearance as engineers slide the first part of the barrel pixel just millimeters from the LHC’s beampipe. Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    Scientists and engineers lift and guide the components by hand as they prepare to insert them into the CMS detector. Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    Scientists and engineers connect the cooling pipes of the forward pixel detector. The pixel detector is flushed with liquid carbon dioxide to keep the silicon sensors protected from the LHC’s high-energy collisions. Photo by Maximilien Brice, CERN

    The pixel detector consists of three sections: the innermost barrel section and two end caps called the forward pixel detectors. The tiered and can-like structure gives scientists a near-complete sphere of coverage around the collision point. Because the three pixel detectors fit on the beam pipe like three bulky bracelets, engineers designed each component as two half-moons, which latch together to form a ring around the beam pipe during the insertion process.

    Over time, scientists have increased the rate of particle collisions at the LHC. In 2016 alone, the LHC produced about as many collisions as it had in the three years of its first run together. To be able to differentiate between dozens of simultaneous collisions, CMS needed a brand new pixel detector.

    The upgrade packs even more sensors into the heart of the CMS detector. It’s as if CMS graduated from a 66-megapixel camera to a 124-megapixel camera.

    Each of the two forward pixel detectors is a mosaic of 672 silicon sensors, robust electronics and bundles of cables and optical fibers that feed electricity and instructions in and carry raw data out, according to Marco Verzocchi, a Fermilab researcher on the CMS experiment.

    The multipart, 6.5-meter-long pixel detector is as delicate as raw spaghetti. Installing the new components into a gap the size of a manhole required more than just finesse. It required months of planning and extreme coordination.

    “We practiced this installation on mock-ups of our detector many times,” says Greg Derylo, an engineer at Fermilab. “By the time we got to the actual installation, we knew exactly how we needed to slide this new component into the heart of CMS.”

    The most difficult part was maneuvering the delicate components around the pre-existing structures inside the CMS experiment.

    “In total, the full three-part pixel detector consists of six separate segments, which fit together like a three-dimensional cylindrical puzzle around the beam pipe,” says Stephanie Timpone, a Fermilab engineer. “Inserting the pieces in the right positions and right order without touching any of the pre-existing supports and protections was a well-choreographed dance.”

    For engineers like Timpone and Derylo, installing the pixel detector was the last step of a six-year process. But for the scientists working on the CMS experiment, it was just the beginning.

    “Now we have to make it work,” says Stefanos Leontsinis, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “We’ll spend the next several weeks testing the components and preparing for the LHC restart.”

    See the full article here .

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 11:46 am on March 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Hernán Quintana Godoy, Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “High-energy visionary” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Oscar Miyamoto

    Meet Hernán Quintana Godoy, the scientist who made Chile central to international astronomy.


    Professor Hernán Quintana Godoy has a way of taking the long view, peering back into the past through distant stars while looking ahead to the future of astronomy in his home, Chile.

    For three decades, Quintana has helped shape the landscape of astronomy in Chile, host to some of the largest ground-based observatories in the world.


    ESO/VLT at Cerro Paranal, with an elevation of 2,635 metres (8,645 ft) above sea level

    ESO/Cerro LaSilla, 600 km north of Santiago de Chile at an altitude of 2400 metres


    Carnegie 6.5 meter Magellan Baade and Clay Telescopes located at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, Chile.

    NOAO/CTIO Victor M Blanco 4m Telescope which houses the DECam at Cerro Tololo, Chile



    ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile

    Giant Magellan Telescope, Las Campanas Observatory, to be built some 115 km (71 mi) north-northeast of La Serena, Chile

    LSST telescope, currently under construction at Cerro Pachón Chile, a 2,682-meter-high mountain in Coquimbo Region, in northern Chile, alongside the existing Gemini South and Southern Astrophysical Research Telescopes.

    In January he became the first recipient of the Education Prize of the American Astronomical Society from a country other than the United States or Canada.

    Long overdue.

    “Training the next generation of astronomers should not be limited to just a few countries,” says Keely Finkelstein, former chair of the AAS Education Prize Committee. “[Quintana] has been a tireless advocate for establishing excellent education and research programs in Chile.”

    Quintana earned his doctorate from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1973. The same year, a military junta headed by General Augusto Pinochet took power in a coup d’état.

    Quintana came home and secured a teaching position at the University of Chile. At the time, Chilean researchers mainly focused on the fundamentals of astronomy—measuring the radiation from stars and calculating the coordinates of celestial objects. By contrast, Quintana’s dissertation on high-energy phenomena seemed downright radical.

    A year and a half after taking his new job, Quintana was granted a leave of absence to complete a post-doc abroad. Writing from the United States, Quintana published an article encouraging Chile to take better advantage of its existing international observatories. He urged the government to provide more funding and to create an environment that would encourage foreign-educated astronomers to return home to Chile after their postgraduate studies. The article did not go over well with the administration at his university.

    “I wrote it for a magazine that was clearly against Pinochet,” Quintana says. “The magazine cover was a black page with a big ‘NO’ in red” related to an upcoming referendum.

    UCh dissolved Quintana’s teaching position.

    Quintana became a wandering postdoc and research associate in Europe, the US and Canada. It wasn’t until 1981 that Quintana returned to teach at the Physics Institute at Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.

    He continued to push the envelope at PUC. He created elective courses on general astronomy, extragalactic astrophysics and cluster dynamics. He revived and directed a small astronomy group. He encouraged students to expand their horizons by hiring both Chilean and foreign teachers and sending students to study abroad.

    “Because of him I took advantage of most of the big observatories in Chile and had an international perspective of research from the very beginning of my career,” says Amelia Ramirez, who studied with Quintana in 1983. A specialist in interacting elliptical galaxies, she is now head of Research and Development in University of La Serena.

    In mid-1980s Quintana became the scriptwriter for a set of distance learning astronomy classes produced by the educational division of his university’s public TV channel, TELEDUC. He challenged his viewers to take on advanced topics—and they responded.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 4:18 pm on March 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “Q&A: Dark matter next door?” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Manuel Gnida

    NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration and Bill Schoening, Vanessa Harvey/REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF

    Astrophysicists Eric Charles and Mattia Di Mauro discuss the surprising glow of our neighbor galaxy.

    [ApJ Volume 836, issue 2, Number 2, 2017] Astronomers recently discovered a stronger-than-expected glow of gamma rays at the center of the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to the Milky Way.

    Andromeda Galaxy Adam Evans

    The signal has fueled hopes that scientists are zeroing in on a sign of dark matter, which is five times more prevalent than normal matter but has never been detected directly.

    Researchers believe that gamma rays—a very energetic form of light—could be produced when hypothetical dark matter particles decay or collide and destroy each other. However, dark matter isn’t the only possible source of the gamma rays. A number of other cosmic processes are known to produce them.

    So what do Andromeda’s gamma rays really tell us about dark matter? To find out, Symmetry’s Manuel Gnida talked with Eric Charles and Mattia Di Mauro, two members of the Fermi-LAT collaboration—an international team of researchers that found the Andromeda gamma-ray signal using the Large Area Telescope [LAT], a sensitive “eye” for dark matter on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.

    Both researchers are based at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology, a joint institute of Stanford University and the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The LAT was conceived of and assembled at SLAC, which also hosts its operations center.

    KIPAC researchers Eric Charles and Mattia Di Mauro. Dawn Harmer, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

    S. Have you discovered dark matter?
    MD: No, we haven’t. In the study, the LAT team looked at the gamma-ray emissions of the Andromeda galaxy and found something unexpected, something we don’t fully understand yet. But there are other potential astrophysical explanations than dark matter.

    It’s also not the first time that the LAT collaboration has studied Andromeda with Fermi, but in the old data the galaxy only looked like a big blob. With more data and improved data processing, we have now obtained a much clearer picture of the galaxy’s gamma-ray glow and how it’s distributed.

    S.What’s so unusual about the results?
    EC: As a spiral galaxy, Andromeda is similar to the Milky Way. Therefore, we expected the emissions of both galaxies to look similar. What we discovered is that they are, in fact, quite different.

    In our galaxy, gamma rays come from all kinds of locations—from the center and the spiral arms in the outer regions. For Andromeda, on the other hand, the signal is concentrated at the center.

    S.Why do galaxies glow in gamma rays?
    EC: The answer depends on the type of galaxy. There are active galaxies called blazars. They emit gamma rays when matter in close orbit around supermassive black holes generates jets of plasma. And then there are “normal” galaxies like Andromeda and the Milky Way that produce gamma rays in other ways.

    When we look at the emissions of the Milky Way, the galaxy appears like a bright disk, with the somewhat brighter galactic center at the center of the disk. Most of this glow is diffuse and comes from the gas between the stars that lights up when it’s hit by cosmic rays—energetic particles spit out by star explosions or supernovae.

    Other gamma-ray sources are the remnants of such supernovae and pulsars—extremely dense, magnetized, rapidly rotating neutron stars. These sources show up as bright dots in the gamma-ray map of the Milky Way, except at the center where the density of gamma-ray sources is high and the diffuse glow of the Milky Way is brightest, which prevents the LAT from detecting individual sources.

    Andromeda is too far away to see individual gamma-ray sources, so it only has a diffuse glow in our images. But we expected to see most of the emissions to come from the disk as well. Its absence suggests that there is less interaction between gas and cosmic rays in our neighbor galaxy. Since this interaction is tied to the formation of stars, this also suggests that Andromeda had a different history of star formation than the Milky Way.

    The sky in gamma rays with energies greater than 1 gigaelectronvolts, based on eight years of data from the LAT on NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. NASA/DOE/Fermi LAT Collaboration.

    NASA/Fermi LAT

    NASA/Fermi Telescope

    S. What does all this have to do with dark matter?
    MD: When we carefully analyze the gamma-ray emissions of the Milky Way and model all the gas and point-like sources to the best of our knowledge, then we’re left with an excess of gamma rays at the galactic center. Some people have argued this excess could be a telltale sign of dark matter particles.

    We know that the concentration of dark matter is largest at the galactic center, so if there were a dark matter signal, we would expect it to come from there. The localization of gamma-ray emissions at Andromeda’s center seems to have renewed the interest in the dark matter interpretation in the media.

    S.Is dark matter the most likely interpretation?
    EC: No, there are other explanations. There are so many gamma-ray sources at the galactic center that we can’t really see them individually. This means that their light merges into an extended, diffuse glow.

    In fact, two recent studies from the US and the Netherlands have suggested that this glow in the Milky Way could be due to unresolved point sources such as pulsars. The same interpretation could also be true for Andromeda’s signal.

    S.What would it take to know for certain?
    MD:To identify a dark matter signal, we would need to exclude all other possibilities. This is very difficult for a complex region like the galactic center, for which we don’t even know all the astrophysical processes. Of course, this also means that, for the same reason, we can’t completely rule out the dark matter interpretation.

    But what’s really important is that we would want to see the same signal in a few different places. However, we haven’t detected any gamma-ray excesses in other galaxies that are consistent with the ones in the Milky Way and Andromeda.

    This is particularly striking for dwarf galaxies, small companion galaxies of the Milky Way that only have few stars. These objects are only held together because they are dominated by dark matter. If the gamma-ray excess at the galactic center were due to dark matter, then we should have already seen similar signatures in the dwarf galaxies. But we don’t.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 2:03 pm on March 14, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Symmetry Magazine   

    From Symmetry: “The life of an accelerator” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Manuel Gnida


    Tens of thousands of accelerators exist around the world, producing powerful particle beams for the benefit of medical diagnostics, cancer therapy, industrial manufacturing, material analysis, national security, and nuclear as well as fundamental particle physics. Particle beams can also be used to produce powerful beams of X-rays.

    Many of these particle accelerators rely on artfully crafted components called cavities.

    The world’s longest linear accelerator (also known as a linac) sits at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. It stretches two miles and accelerates bunches of electrons to very high energies.

    The SLAC linac has undergone changes in its 50 years of operation that illustrate the evolution of the science of accelerator cavities. That evolution continues and will determine what the linac does next.


    Robust copper

    An accelerator cavity is a mostly closed, hollow chamber with an opening on each side for particles to pass through. As a particle moves through the cavity, it picks up energy from an electromagnetic field stored inside. Many cavities can be lined up like beads on a string to generate higher and higher particle energies.

    When SLAC’s linac first started operations, each of its cavities was made exclusively from copper. Each tube-like cavity consisted of a 1-inch-long, 4-inch-wide cylinder with disks on either side. Technicians brazed together more than 80,000 cavities to form a straight particle racetrack.

    Scientists generate radiofrequency waves in an apparatus called a klystron that distributes them to the cavities. Each SLAC klystron serves a 10-foot section of the beam line. The arrival of the electron bunch inside the cavity is timed to match the peak in the accelerating electric field. When a particle arrives inside the cavity at the same time as the peak in the electric field, then that bunch is optimally accelerated.

    “Particles only gain energy if the variable electric field precisely matches the particle motion along the length of the accelerator,” says Sami Tantawi, an accelerator physicist at Stanford University and SLAC. “The copper must be very clean and the shape and size of each cavity must be machined very carefully for this to happen.”

    In its original form, SLAC’s linac boosted electrons and their antimatter siblings, positrons, to an energy of 50 billion electronvolts. Researchers used these beams of accelerated particles to study the inner structure of the proton, which led to the discovery of fundamental particles known as quarks.

    Today almost all accelerators in the world—including smaller systems for medical and industrial applications—are made of copper. Copper is a good electric conductor, which is important because the radiofrequency waves build up an accelerating field by creating electric currents in the cavity walls. Copper can be machined very smoothly and is cheaper than other options, such as silver.

    “Copper accelerators are very robust systems that produce high acceleration gradients of tens of millions of electronvolts per meter, which makes them very attractive for many applications,” says SLAC accelerator scientist Chris Adolphsen.

    Today, one-third of SLAC’s original copper linac is used to accelerate electrons for the Linac Coherent Light Source, a facility that turns energy from the electron beam into what is currently the world’s brightest X-ray laser light.

    Researchers continue to push the technology to higher and higher gradients—that is, larger and larger amounts of acceleration over a given distance.

    “Using sophisticated computer programs on powerful supercomputers, we were able to develop new cavity geometries that support almost 10 times larger gradients,” Tantawi says. “Mixing small amounts of silver into the copper further pushes the technology toward its natural limits.” Cooling the copper to very low temperatures helps as well. Tests at 45 Kelvin—negative 384 degrees Fahrenheit—have shown to increase acceleration gradients 20-fold compared to SLAC’s old linac.

    Copper accelerators have their limitations, though. SLAC’s historic linac produces 120 bunches of particles per second, and recent developments have led to copper structures capable of firing 80 times faster. But for applications that need much higher rates, Adolphsen says, “copper cavities don’t work because they would melt.”

    Chill niobium

    For this reason, crews at SLAC are in the process of replacing one-third of the original copper linac with cavities made of niobium.

    Niobium can support very large bunch rates, as long as it is cooled. At very low temperatures, it is what’s known as a superconductor.

    “Below the critical temperature of 9.2 Kelvin, the cavity walls conduct electricity without losses, and electromagnetic waves can travel up and down the cavity many, many times, like a pendulum that goes on swinging for a very long time,” says Anna Grassellino, an accelerator scientist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. “That’s why niobium cavities can store electromagnetic energy very efficiently and can operate continuously.”

    You can find superconducting niobium cavities in modern particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN and the CEBAF accelerator at Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. The European X-ray Free-Electron Laser in Germany, the European Spallation Source at CERN, and the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at Michigan State University are all being built using niobium technology. Niobium cavities also appear in designs for the next-generation International Linear Collider.

    At SLAC, the niobium cavities will support LCLS-II, an X-ray laser that will produce up to a million ultrabright light flashes per second. The accelerator will have 280 cavities, each about three feet long with a 3-inch opening for the electron beam to fly through. Sets of eight cavities will be strung together into cryomodules that keep the cavities at a chilly 2 Kelvin, which is colder than interstellar space.

    Each niobium cavity is made by fusing together two halves stamped from a sheet of pure metal. The cavities are then cleaned very thoroughly because even the tiniest impurities would degrade their performance.

    The shape of the cavities is reminiscent of a stack of shiny donuts. This is to maximize the cavity volume for energy storage and to minimize its surface area to cut down on energy dissipation. The exact size and shape also depends on the type of accelerated particle.

    “We’ve come a long way since the first development of superconducting cavities decades ago,” Grassellino says. “Today’s niobium cavities produce acceleration gradients of up to about 50 million electronvolts per meter, and R&D work at Fermilab and elsewhere is further pushing the limits.”

    Hot plasma

    Over the past few years, SLAC accelerator scientists have been working on a way to push the limits of particle acceleration even further: accelerating particles using bubbles of ionized gas called plasma.

    Plasma wakefield acceleration is capable of creating acceleration gradients that are up to 1000 times larger than those of copper and niobium cavities, promising to drastically shrink the size of particle accelerators and make them much more powerful.

    “These plasma bubbles have certain properties that are very similar to conventional metal cavities,” says SLAC accelerator physicist Mark Hogan. “But because they don’t have a solid surface, they can support extremely high acceleration gradients without breaking down.”

    Hogan’s team at SLAC and collaborators from the University of California, Los Angeles, have been developing their plasma acceleration method at the Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests, using an oven of hot lithium gas for the plasma and an electron beam from SLAC’s copper linac.

    Researchers create bubbles by sending either intense laser light or a high-energy beam of charged particles through plasma. They then send beams of particles through the bubbles to be accelerated.

    When, for example, an electron bunch enters a plasma, its negative charge expels plasma electrons from its flight path, creating a football-shaped cavity filled with positively charged lithium ions. The expelled electrons form a negatively charged sheath around the cavity.

    This plasma bubble, which is only a few hundred microns in size, travels at nearly the speed of light and is very short-lived. On the inside, it has an extremely strong electric field. A second electron bunch enters that field and experiences a tremendous energy gain. Recent data show possible energy boosts of billions of electronvolts in a plasma column of just a little over a meter.

    “In addition to much higher acceleration gradients, the plasma technique has another advantage,” says UCLA researcher Chris Clayton. “Copper and niobium cavities don’t keep particle beams tightly bundled and require the use of focusing magnets along the accelerator. Plasma cavities, on the other hand, also focus the beam.”

    Much more R&D work is needed before plasma wakefield accelerator technology can be turned into real applications. But it could represent the future of particle acceleration at SLAC and of accelerator science as a whole.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

  • richardmitnick 8:51 pm on March 10, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , Symmetry Magazine, The strong force (strong interaction)   

    From Symmetry: “A strength test for the strong force [strong interaction]” 

    Symmetry Mag


    Sarah Charley

    Science Saturday

    New research could tell us about particle interactions in the early universe and even hint at new physics.

    Much of the matter in the universe is made up of tiny particles called quarks. Normally it’s impossible to see a quark on its own because they are always bound tightly together in groups. Quarks only separate in extreme conditions, such as immediately after the Big Bang or in the center of stars or during high-energy particle collisions generated in particle colliders.

    Scientists at Louisiana Tech University are working on a study of quarks and the force that binds them by analyzing data from the ATLAS experiment at the LHC. Their measurements could tell us more about the conditions of the early universe and could even hint at new, undiscovered principles of physics.

    ATLAS at the LHC

    The particles that stick quarks together are aptly named “gluons.” Gluons carry the strong force, one of four fundamental forces in the universe that govern how particles interact and behave. The strong force binds quarks into particles such as protons, neutrons and atomic nuclei.

    As its name suggests, the strong force [strong interaction] is the strongest—it’s 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force (which binds electrons into atoms), 10,000 times stronger than the weak force (which governs radioactive decay), and a hundred million million million million million million (1039) times stronger than gravity (which attracts you to the Earth and the Earth to the sun).

    But this ratio shifts when the particles are pumped full of energy. Just as real glue loses its stickiness when overheated, the strong force carried by gluons becomes weaker at higher energies.

    “Particles play by an evolving set of rules,” says Markus Wobisch from Louisiana Tech University. “The strength of the forces and their influence within the subatomic world changes as the particles’ energies increase. This is a fundamental parameter in our understanding of matter, yet has not been fully investigated by scientists at high energies.”

    Characterizing the cohesiveness of the strong force is one of the key ingredients to understanding the formation of particles after the Big Bang and could even provide hints of new physics, such as hidden extra dimensions.

    “Extra dimensions could help explain why the fundamental forces vary dramatically in strength,” says Lee Sawyer, a professor at Louisiana Tech University. “For instance, some of the fundamental forces could only appear weak because they live in hidden extra dimensions and we can’t measure their full strength. If the strong force is weaker or stronger than expected at high energies, this tells us that there’s something missing from our basic model of the universe.”

    By studying the high-energy collisions produced by the LHC, the research team at Louisiana Tech University is characterizing how the strong force pulls energetic quarks into encumbered particles. The challenge they face is that quarks are rambunctious and caper around inside the particle detectors. This subatomic soirée involves hundreds of particles, often arising from about 20 proton-proton collisions happening simultaneously. It leaves a messy signal, which scientists must then reconstruct and categorize.

    Wobisch and his colleagues innovated a new method to study these rowdy groups of quarks called jets. By measuring the angles and orientations of the jets, he and his colleagues are learning important new information about what transpired during the collisions—more than what they can deduce by simple counting the jets.

    The average number of jets produced by proton-proton collisions directly corresponds to the strength of the strong force in the LHC’s energetic environment.

    “If the strong force is stronger than predicted, then we should see an increase in the number of proton-protons collisions that generate three jets. But if the strong force is actually weaker than predicted, then we’d expect to see relatively more collisions that produce only two jets. The ratio between these two possible outcomes is the key to understanding the strong force.”

    After turning on the LHC, scientists doubled their energy reach and have now determined the strength of the strong force up to 1.5 trillion electronvolts, which is roughly the average energy of every particle in the universe just after the Big Bang. Wobisch and his team are hoping to double this number again with more data.

    “So far, all our measurements confirm our predictions,” Wobisch says. “More data will help us look at the strong force at even higher energies, giving us a glimpse as to how the first particles formed and the microscopic structure of space-time.”

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Symmetry is a joint Fermilab/SLAC publication.

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