Saturday, April 10, 2021

Muon g-2 Results Signify New Physics? Maybe Not.

The big news of the week that got all the media coverage is the result that came out of Fermilab's Muon g-2 experiment that confirmed an earlier result from Brookhaven more than a dozen years ago. Fermilab even announced it like.

However, as with any scientific discovery or announcement, one has to take a deep breath and let the process works itself out before we put our stamp of validity to it. This is because there is a theoretical calculation that has also been published along with this result that basically recalculates what the Standard Model predicts as the magnetic moment of a muon, and they found that the new calculation produces a result consistent with the experiment. In other words, there is no new physics if this calculation is verified, because the old Standard Model does, in fact, predicted this new result.

One of the major difficulties in physics is that in many situations, we do not have a simple equation that we can plug-and-chug to get numbers out. In fact, this is why predicting the weather is difficult, because the non-linear differential equations that need to be solved to get the number out can only be done numerically, i.e. it has to be done via some numerical algorithm.

This is made worse when there are a gazillion interactions involved in a system. So one ends up making simplifying models or adopt calculational techniques to allow us to get to some numerical answers. We benchmark the technique to known values and known systems to make sure that it gives accurate and sensible answers, but as we push the boundary even more, there is no guarantee that that calculational technique will work all the time.

The author of the theoretical paper used a calculational technique called lattice QCD. This is a known calculational model that has been described in simple terms in the link I provided above. It appears that using this method, the Standard Model does provide a value for the muon magnetic moment that is consistent with the experiment. If this is true, then it means that the old calculation of the magnetic moment was incorrect in the first place, and that there is discrepancy between what the Standard model predicts, and what the experiment measures.

While this is good news for the Standard Model and is another evidences of why it is an amazing theory, those who are looking for new physics beyond the Standard Model will obviously not be jumping for joy. But that isn't the issue here and not what I want to highlight. Rather, it is the constant reminder that in science, and especially in such exotic areas of physics, every discovery or new ideas must not be overblown or overhyped, because those require multiple verification over a period of time. It is not a situation for instant gratification. A lot of hard work is still to come because we have seen way too many times where something that was touted turned out to not be valid.

This announcement received a lot of media coverage. I just hope that this is a valid "new physics" and not just something that turned out to be what the old theory did predict.