Although I realize that most visitors to a publishing website are probably not as interested as I am in the nuances and new developments in particle physics, I am much more willing to ask you to indulge my other interests with these Saturday articles. In this case, it is an article from last week’s issue of Science, or rather, two articles: one a research paper, and the other an article based on the research paper.
The article, An Upset to the Standard Model, provides an excellent description of both what happened and the significance of what happened, so I will not bother rehashing in too much detail here. Suffice to say, the Standard Model has reigned supreme for a very long time, and its continued relevancy is one of the things that physicists are apt to point to when defending their assertions that we might be close to a universal theory. Interestingly, the article claims that physicists are looking at supersymmetry as an alternative, which is an interesting development, considering that it has some pretty outlandish predictions. I will admit to being skeptical (actually, from other reading I’ve done I thought that supersymmetry had gone out of favor in the theoretical physics community).
For those who are still interested, I do encourage you to explore the paper itself, High-precision Measurement of the W Boson Mass with the CDF II Detector, which discusses a measurement of the W boson mass from a detector at Fermilab which does not conform to the prediction for that value made by the Standard Model. The way these models work, physicists are always looking for empirical evidence, like concrete particle values and mass measurements, which will align with their predictions and make the math work out for the rest of the model. In this case, the measurement of the W boson mass is higher than the model will allow, which could break all kinds of things.
While this is being hailed as the first potentially significant failure of the Standard Model, the Standard Model has really been struggling for years with a variety of problems, including reconciling gravity and addressing the dark matter and dark energy questions. There is an argument to be made that the need to invoke mysterious, unexplained patches like dark matter and dark energy is a sign that the Standard Model may not be as strong of a tool as we have been treating it, and that it may be time to explore alternative models.
What makes science so exciting, and so powerful, is its ability to take new information and new data, and use them as a place to start developing something new and evolving into better explanations. The goal is to find less wrong answers, and this paper might just put us a little further along the path towards a less wrong answer.