Elizabeth Gibney in Nature:
In the search for new physics, experiments based on high-energy collisions inside massive atom smashers are coming up empty-handed. So physicists are putting their faith in more-precise methods: less crash-and-grab and more watching-ways-of-wobbling. Next month, researchers in the United States will turn on one such experiment. It will make a super-accurate measurement of the way that muons, heavy cousins of electrons, behave in a magnetic field. And it could provide evidence of the existence of entirely new particles.
The particles hunted by the new experiment, at the Fermi National Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, comprise part of the virtual soup that surrounds and interacts with all forms of matter. Quantum theory says that short-lived virtual particles constantly ‘blip’ in and out of existence. Physicists already account for the effects of known virtual particles, such as photons and quarks. But the virtual soup might have mysterious, and as yet unidentified, ingredients. And muons could be particularly sensitive to them.
The new Muon g−2 experiment will measure this sensitivity with unparalleled precision. And in doing so, it will reanalyse a muon anomaly that has puzzled physicists for more than a decade. If the experiment confirms that the anomaly is real, then the most likely explanation is that it is caused by virtual particles that do not appear in the existing physics playbook — the standard model.