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Big noises about a little bump at Fermilab

By Hamish Johnston

Particle physics blogs are buzzing about an innocuous-looking bump in data taken by the CDF experiment at Fermilab in Chicago – and the possibility that it could be evidence for a new particle.

The unexplained signal was spotted in a study of W and Z boson pairs that are created when protons and antiprotons collide in Fermilab’s Tevatron collider. It appears at about 120–160 GeV /C2 in the distribution of jets that are produced in the collisions. The bump has a statistical significance of “three-sigma”, which means that there is a one in 370 chance that the bump is not real.

While that might sound convincing to you and me, particle physicists don’t accept a new result until it has been established at five-sigma – about one in two million chance of not being real. Another problem is that CDF’s sister experiment D0 doesn’t see the bump. Rumours are also circulating that ATLAS at CERN has not seen it.

But if the bump is real, what could it be?

Theoretical physicists are now hard at work trying to explain the bump, and at least one paper – with the intriguing title Technicolor at the Tevatron – has already been posted on the arXiv preprint server. No doubt many more will follow.

What are other physicists saying?

In his blog, Tommaso Dorigo sketches out three possible ways that the bump could be an artefact of how the experiment was done or the data were analyzed. But if the bump is real, he thinks that it could be evidence for a new particle – but not a Higgs boson.

Adam Falkowski seems to agree. “It is not a Higgs; anything Higgsish with 150 GeV mass would prefer decaying to a pair of W bosons rather than to two light jets,” he writes in his blog.

But what about a “non-standard Higgs”? Flip Tanedo explores that possibility in this blog entry.

The story has also captured the imagination of veteran science writer Dennis Overbye in an here.

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One comment to Big noises about a little bump at Fermilab

  1. Martin

    “The bump has a statistical significance of “three-sigma”, which means that there is a one in 370 chance that the bump is not real.”
    Not quite. It means that *if* it’s not real, there’s a 1 in 370 chance that a bump at least that big would have shown up in the data anyway (due to statistical fluctuation). Which given the number of different distributions that get looked at wouldn’t be all that surprising (see !)


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