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Is the Standard Model Wrong?

Science is based on doubt. One of its greatest strengths is self-checking assumptions. It is never one hundred percent correct. Woe to those who blindly follow it as a religion.

Electron-Positron Collision

An electron and positron collide. The resulting decay happens more often than predicted by the Standard Model of physics.

In the last posting, I briefly described what the Standard Model explains, and what it doesn’t.

Now a recently discovered problem with the model may open the door to new discoveries and a better model.

If a globe is a model of the Earth, then it is an improvement over a flat map model of the Earth. Both models show India’s relative position to Australia, but the flat model gives the false impression that sailing far enough east plunges one into the abyss.

In the same way, the standard model describes how sub-atomic particles interact, but it seems to give false impressions. Technically speaking, there is a particular decay process where B-bar mesons decay into three other particles:

  • a D meson (a quark and an antiquark, one of which is “charm” flavored ),
  • an antineutrino (the antimatter partner of the neutrino), and
  • a tau lepton (a cousin of an electron).

The problem is, this happens more than the Standard Model predicts — a false impression.

“Big deal, right?” she said, laden with sarcasm.

Well it is if you’re trying to explain how the universe works or are using these principles to create the iPhone 16. In the same way, a flat model of the Earth is good enough as long as you’re not a sailor.

While the findings are more sensitive than previous studies of these decays, they are not statistically significant enough to claim they present a clear break from the Standard Model. Michael Roney of the University of Victoria in Canada said in a statement, “Before we can claim an actual discovery, other experiments have to replicate it and rule out the possibility this isn’t just an unlikely statistical fluctuation.”

“If the excess decays shown are confirmed, it will be exciting to figure out what is causing it. We hope our results will stimulate theoretical discussion about just what the data are telling us about new physics.” ~  BaBar physics coordinator Abner Soffer of Tel Aviv University.

Misbehaving Particles Poke Holes in Reigning Physics Theory and
Experiment Raises Doubt over Standard Model of Physics

The Standard Model in Layman’s Terms

You can’t see what sub atomic particles look like because they’re smaller than light itself … well, at least smaller than the wavelength of visible light. But if you hit an atomic nucleus hard, really hard, you can break it apart and see what it’s made of and how those pieces interact. It’s somewhat like trying to figure out how a Swiss watch works by shooting it with a gun.

Standard Model of Particle Physics

Over the last century, scientists have done just that. The guns they used are particle accelerators (colliders) and they help us develop what’s known as the Standard Model of particle physics. This Standard Model describes nuclear interactions that mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Any model has its limits. A desk-top globe is a model of the earth, but it doesn’t show the current weather patterns and you can’t use it to find your way home from the grocery store. It shows one thing well at a macro scale: political or topographic or some other feature. A globe works well because it shows us what the world looks like from a distance. Without it (and without pictures from space), all we can see of the Earth is as far as the horizon.

In the same way, the Standard Model is a representation of the very small, but it also has its limits. It’s good at showing how sub-atomic particles interact, but it doesn’t show what happens with dark energy, dark mater, neutrino oscillations, or gravity (as described by general relativity).

And there may be another problem. The model appears to leak.

If you want more explanation of the standard model in layman’s terms, click here.  It’s a great video.

If you want to see what university education might look like a hundred years from now, read Cohesion Lost, a science fiction short story full of suspense, a couple of twists, and a little humor.

About Cohesion Lost: For Alexander Sevik, providing for his family is hard enough without losing grip on reality. His dreams are real. One night, he lives the entire life of a deckhand on a Spanish galleon. The next night, it’s life as an ancient Roman senator. Next, he is a cyborg on a space cruiser. When he wakes, he sometimes forgets who he is. His hands tingle for no reason, and the strange man who is following him talks about aliens. When he discovers the key to his dreams, he uncovers a national threat. And he has to choose between his own sanity or saving lives.