The Brout-Englert-Higgs (BEH) mechanism is at the core of the Standard Model, the theory that describes the fundamental constituents of matter and their interactions. It introduces a new field, the Higgs field, through which the weak bosons (W and Z) become massive while the photon remains massless. The excitation of this field is a physical particle, the Higgs boson, which was discovered by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations in 2012.
While the Standard Model has proven tremendously successful, much experimental evidence points to it not being a complete description of our universe. The search for “new physics” is therefore an important component of the ATLAS experimental programme, where a number of analyses are looking for signs of new heavy particles decaying to different final states. Though these searches have not yet found a significant signal, they have allowed physicists to place stringent constraints on different new physics scenarios. These can be further tightened by combining different analysis channels and approaches.
While the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in 2012 confirmed many Standard Model predictions, it has raised as many questions as it has answered. For example, interactions at the quantum level between the Higgs boson and the top quark ought to lead to a huge Higgs boson mass, possibly as large as the Planck mass (>1018 GeV). So why is it only 125 GeV? Is there a mechanism at play to cancel these large quantum corrections caused by the top quark (t)? Finding a way to explain the lightness of the Higgs boson is one of the top (no pun intended) questions in particle physics.
Today, at the 2018 International Conference on High Energy Physics in Seoul, the ATLAS experiment reported a preliminary result establishing the observation of the Higgs boson decaying into pairs of b quarks, furthermore at a rate consistent with the Standard Model prediction.
Higgs boson couplings manifest themselves in the rate of production of the Higgs boson at the LHC, and its decay branching ratios into various final states. These rates have been precisely measured by the ATLAS experiment, using up to 80 fb–1 of data collected at a proton-proton collision energy of 13 TeV from 2015 to 2017. Measurements were performed in all of the main decay channels of the Higgs boson: to pairs of photons, W and Z bosons, bottom quarks, taus, and muons. The overall production rate of the Higgs boson was measured to be in agreement with Standard Model predictions, with an uncertainty of 8%. The uncertainty is reduced from 11% in the previous combined measurements released last year.
The top quark is a unique particle due to its phenomenally high mass. It decays in less than 10-24 seconds, that is, before it had time to interact with any other particles. Therefore many of its quantum numbers, such as its spin, are transferred to its decay particles. When created in matter-antimatter pairs, the spins of the top quark and the antitop quark are expected to be correlated to some degree.
Two among the rarest processes probed so far at the LHC, the scattering between W and Z bosons emitted by quarks in proton-proton collisions, have been established by the ATLAS experiment at CERN.
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.