A decisive property of the Higgs boson is its affinity to mass. The heavier a particle is, the stronger the Higgs boson will couple to it. While physicists have firmly established this property for heavy W and Z bosons (force carriers), more data are needed to measure the Higgs boson coupling to the heavy fermions (matter particles). These interactions, known as Yukawa couplings, are very interesting as they proceed through a quite different mechanism than the coupling to force-carrying bosons in the Standard Model.
Many theoretical models predict that new physics, which could provide answers to these questions, could manifest itself as yet-undiscovered massive particles. These include massive new particles that would decay to much lighter high-momentum electroweak bosons (W and Z). These in turn decay, and the most common signature would be pairs of highly collimated bundles of particles, known as jets.
According to the Standard Model, quarks, charged leptons, and W and Z bosons obtain their mass through interactions with the Higgs field, whose fluctuation gives rise to the Higgs boson. To test this theory, ATLAS takes high-precision measurements of the interactions between the Higgs boson and these particles. While experiments had observed and measured the Higgs boson decaying to pairs of W or Z bosons, photons or tau leptons, the Higgs coupling to quarks had – until now – not been observed.
The ATLAS experiment has just completed a new search for evidence of supersymmetry (SUSY), a theory that predicts the existence of new “super-partner” particles, with different properties from their Standard Model counterparts. This search looks for SUSY particles decaying to produce two leptons and scrutinises the invariant mass distribution of these leptons, hoping to find a bump.
In October 2017, the ATLAS experiment recorded collisions of xenon nuclei for the first time. While massive compared to a proton, xenon nuclei are smaller than the lead ions typically collided in the LHC. The xenon-xenon collision data, combined with previous results from the analysis of lead-lead collisions, provide the first opportunity to examine heavy ion collisions in a system that is distinctly smaller in size. This allows physicists to study in detail the role of the collision geometry for observables often associated with the quark-gluon plasma.
Heavy ion collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) form a hot, dense medium called the quark-gluon plasma (QGP), in which the primary constituents are thought to be quarks and gluons produced in the initial interactions of the nuclei. Besides typical heavy ion collisions, where the nucleons in the colliding nuclei undergo multiple strong interactions with each other, there is also a class of “ultraperipheral” collisions. In these collisions, the nuclei are far enough apart to miss each other, but the surrounding electromagnetic field of one nucleus is able to interact both with the other nucleus (“photonuclear” interactions) and with the other electromagnetic field (“photon-photon” interactions).
The ATLAS collaboration is continuing to scour the wealth of data provided by the LHC for any signs of physics beyond the particles and interactions described by the Standard Model. One approach is to search for new forces in addition to the Standard Model’s electroweak and strong interactions. Such forces could be propagated by new massive bosons playing the role the W and Z bosons have in mediating the electroweak force.
Why is gravity so much weaker than the other forces of nature? This fundamental discrepancy, known as the “hierarchy problem”, has long been a source of puzzlement. Since the discovery of a scalar particle, the Higgs boson, with a mass of 125 GeV near that of the W and Z bosons mediating the weak force, the hierarchy problem is more acute than ever.
The ATLAS collaboration has released a set of comprehensive results that illuminate the properties of the Higgs boson with improved precision, using its decay into two photons with LHC collisions recorded at a centre-of-mass energy of 13 TeV.
What do you do when you produce more data than you can handle? This might seem like a strange question for experimental physicists, but it’s a problem that the ATLAS detector faces every day. While the LHC continues to produce ever-higher rates of proton collisions, the detector can only record data at a fixed rate. Therefore, tough choices must be made about what events to keep. This is not a decision made lightly – what if the thrown-away data contain some long-sought new particles beyond those of the Standard Model.