Topics: Modern Physics, Particle Physics, Quantum Mechanics
Solving a mystery
More than 200 scientists from around the world are collaborating with Fermilab on the Muon g-2 physics experiment which probes fundamental properties of matter and space. Muon g-2 (pronounced gee minus two) allows researchers to peer into the subatomic world to search for undiscovered particles that may be hiding in the vacuum.
Residing at Fermilab’s Muon Campus, the experiment uses the Fermilab accelerator complex to produce an intense beam of muons traveling at nearly the speed of light. Scientists will use the beam to precisely determine the value of a property known as the g-2 of the muon.
The muon, like its lighter sibling the electron, acts like a spinning magnet. The parameter known as “g” indicates how strong the magnet is and the rate of its gyration. The value of the muon’s g is slightly larger than 2. This difference from 2 is caused by the presence of virtual particles that appear from the quantum vacuum and then quickly disappear into it again.
In measuring g-2 with high precision and comparing its value to the theoretical prediction, physicists aim to discover whether the experiment agrees with theory. Any deviation would point to as yet undiscovered subatomic particles that exist in nature.
An experiment that concluded in 2001 at Brookhaven National Laboratory found a tantalizing 3.7 sigma (standard deviation) discrepancy between the theoretical calculation and the measurement of the muon g-2. With a four-fold increase in the measurement’s precision, Muon g-2 will be more sensitive to virtual or hidden particles and forces than any previous experiment of its kind and can bring this discrepancy to the 5 sigma discovery level.
The centerpiece of the Muon g-2 experiment at Fermilab is a large, 50-foot-diameter superconducting muon storage ring. This one-of-a-kind ring, made of steel, aluminum and superconducting wire, was built for the previous g-2 experiment at Brookhaven. The ring was moved from Brookhaven to Fermilab in 2013. Making use of Fermilab’s intense particle beams, scientists will be able to significantly increase the science output of this unique instrument. The experiment started taking data in 2018.
U.S. Department of Energy – Fermilab: Muon g – 2