• Jonathan Zhou

New muon experiment suggests that we have misunderstood the universe

The above graphic illustrates the experiment where muons are wobbled in a giant, doughnut-shaped magnet

A recent discovery in physics after experimenting with muons suggests that there may be new, unknown forms of matter and energy, defying the Standard Model that has defined the laws of physics for half a century.

First discovered in 1936, muons are unstable subatomic particles similar to electrons. It has an average lifetime of approximately 2.2 microseconds or 0.0000022 seconds. Despite their seemingly brief existence, muons exist significantly longer than many other subatomic particles.

Approximately a month ago, researchers in Fermilab, a national lab specializing in high-energy particle physics, found evidence that muons have a noticeably stronger magnetic field than predicted. This may appear as a minor detail, but it shows muons violate the Standard Model. Renee Fatemi, a physicist at the University of Kentucky, believes, “This is strong evidence that the muon is sensitive to something that is not in our best theory.”

The Standard Model was conceived in the 1970s and has remained the backbone of modern particle physics for half a century. It describes three of the fundamental forces of the universe and classifies all known subatomic particles. However, the Standard Model leaves many questions unanswered. One of the main challenges the Standard Model faces is that its self-consistency has not been mathematically proven. Furthermore, the Standard Model fails to explain the existence of gravity, general relativity, dark energy, dark matter, the imbalance of matter and antimatter, and the existence of matter. Additionally, many physicists believe it is inelegant, as it requires a minimum of nineteen arbitrary constants, and would only require more to fix its imperfections.

Despite a large number of challenges, none of them have significantly damaged the credibility of the Standard Model. However, the results of this recent experiment have caused many to question the validity of the Standard Model, as it suggests that muons may be interacting with an unknown force or particle outside of the Standard Model’s predictions. If these results are confirmed, it could bring down the Standard Model and give birth to countless new theories.

As National Geographic explains, “Any theory that tries to explain Muon g-2’s results must also account for the lack of new particles discovered by the LHC. In some of the proposed theories that thread this needle, the universe contains several types of Higgs bosons, not just the one included in the Standard Model. Other theories invoke exotic ‘leptoquarks’ that would cause new kinds of interactions between muons and other particles. But because many of these theories’ simplest versions have been ruled out already, physicists ‘have to kind of think in unconventional ways,’” German physicist Dominik Stöckinger explains. If any of these new theories are proven, they could completely change physics as we know it; the Higgs boson changes the mass of a particle, so multiple types of Higgs bosons could mean that the mass of particles could be based on their location. On the other hand, the discovery of leptoquarks, which are hypothetical particles that can decay into protons and leptons, would help with unifying the four fundamental forces.

Although these new possibilities have excited many, these results have little impact on most people’s daily life. Before the results can even be considered a discovery, they must be confirmed and replicated by other scientists. Furthermore, Fermilab researchers have mentioned they only analyzed six percent of the data, leaving the vast majority, over 94 percent of it, unanalyzed.

However, many scientists remain optimistic. Chris Polly, a physicist working at Fermilab, goes so far as to say, “We can say with fairly high confidence, there must be something contributing to this white space… This is our Mars rover landing moment.” Similarly, Graziano Venanzoni, a physicist at the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics, says “Today is an extraordinary day, long-awaited not only by us but by the whole international physics community.”


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