Subatomic Find

June 2021 View more

By Rafael Guerrero

North Central College professor Paul Bloom was one of 200 physicists whose work contributed to Fermilab’s Muon g-2 experiment, the results from which could be a game changer in particle physics, experts say.
“We’re about to learn something new [about the universe],” said Bloom, who has worked at the Naperville college since 2006 and on the experiment from 2017. While what they have are initial, preliminary results requiring more data and testing, it’s hard not to be a little thrilled, he said.

“I get to do my part—small as it usually is—to expand the boundaries of human knowledge of the universe. How can you not say ‘wow’ to that?”

Fermilab, a U.S. Department of Energy facility located in Batavia, announced the long-awaited results from the experiment in April: the discovery of the subatomic particle muon, a more unstable and heavier cousin of the electron. As part of the experiment, scientists studied beams of muons circulating through the magnetic ring at the speed of light, studying how muons “wobble” through the magnetic field.

Bloom said these first results from the g-2 experiment had muons wobbling in a way that could seem negligible, but were different than had been predicted under the Standard Model—the decades-old theoretical handbook on particle physics and how the subatomic world works.

What does this mean? Bloom and other physicists say this could be a sign that additional forces or particles not yet known to man are at play.

“That’s what is exciting about this measurement. This seems to be—and it’s not official yet—the first time that we have an experimental result that disagrees with the predictions of the Standard Model,” Bloom said.
While the Fermilab experiment on muons is the most precise one yet, Bloom said it may not be until 2022 or 2023 before testing is done and data collected, analyzed, and presented. The results will reveal if this was a fluke or something greater, he said.

“The more data you collect, the more statistically certain the result becomes,” Bloom said.

Dozens of scientists from 35 institutions in eight countries participated in this phase of the experiment. Bloom said his involvement began in the summer of 2017 and continued the following two summers until the pandemic prevented him from going to Fermilab last year.

Bloom hopes to finish work on the apparatus and make the magnetic measurements this summer, joined by a group of undergraduate research assistants who will be getting a front-row seat to what he does.

“There’s a big difference in what you can learn in a classroom or lab versus what you learn where you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bloom said.

This story originally appeared in our sister publication, the Naperville Sun, and is reprinted with permission.

Photos courtesy Reidar Hahn/Fermilab/U.S. Department of Energy via The New York Times