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Title: Topics in Theoretical Physics

This award supported a broadly based research effort in theoretical particle physics, including research aimed at uncovering the laws of nature at short (subatomic) and long (cosmological) distances. These theoretical developments apply to experiments in laboratories such as CERN, the facility that operates the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, as well as to cosmological investigations done using telescopes and satellites. The results reported here apply to physics beyond the so-called Standard Model of particle physics; physics of high energy collisions such as those observed at the Large Hadron Collider; theoretical and mathematical tools and frameworks for describing the laws of nature at short distances; cosmology and astrophysics; and analytic and computational methods to solve theories of short distance physics. Some specific research accomplishments include + Theories of the electroweak interactions, the forces that give rise to many forms of radioactive decay; + Physics of the recently discovered Higgs boson. + Models and phenomenology of dark matter, the mysterious component of the universe, that has so far been detected only by its gravitational effects. + High energy particles in astrophysics and cosmology. + Algorithmic research and Computational methods for physics of and beyond the Standard Model. + Theory and applications ofmore » relativity and its possible limitations. + Topological effects in field theory and cosmology. + Conformally invariant systems and AdS/CFT. This award also supported significant training of students and postdoctoral fellows to lead the research effort in particle theory for the coming decades. These students and fellows worked closely with other members of the group as well as theoretical and experimental colleagues throughout the physics community. Many of the research projects funded by this grant arose in response to recently obtained experimental results in the areas of particle physics and cosmology. We describe a few of these below. Relativity is founded on a symmetry property of nature called "Lorentz Invariance". Like all symmetry properties, it is essential to determine precisely how symmetric nature actually is; that is, do the laws of nature fully respect the symmetry or is there room for tiny symmetry violating effects? An important consequence of Lorentz invariance is the existence of a universal limiting velocity for all physical particles. Light travels at this limiting velocity so it is frequently referred to as simply "the speed of light", but relativity requires that ALL particles travel more slowly than this speed. Once the Higgs particle was discovered in 2012 a natural question was whether or not this particle's speed was consistent with relativity. Although the speed of the Higgs particle is not measurable directly, Cohen has shown that, if the maximal speed of the Higgs particle was not precisely the same as the speed of light, then the Higgs would have some unusual properties. In some cases the Higgs would be unstable to some unusual decay modes; in other cases the interactions of the Higgs with other particles would change the properties of these other particles in ways that could be observed in so-called cosmic rays, very energetic particles (such as photons, protons and other atomic nuclei) coming from space. Once these particles hit the upper atmosphere they produce a "shower" of particles that can be seen by ground-based instruments. If the Higgs has a maximal speed that differs even a tiny bit from the speed of light these showers would look quite different from what is observed. In this way Cohen was able to establish that the Higgs travels with a maximal speed that cannot differ from the speed of light by more than one part in a thousand-trillion. This is by far the most precisely determined property of the Higgs particle. Cohen and Schmaltz reviewed evidence from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a particle physics experiment operating at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, for a new particle sometimes called a W'. This evidence included certain unexpected by-products in collisions of protons at very high energy. While the evidence was not significant enough to claim a discovery, it was sufficiently intriguing that many particle theorists worked to construct explanations for this signal. Cohen and Schmaltz were able to determine that such explanations are highly constrained by previous experiments involving collisions of very energetic particles. Nevertheless they were able to construct a theory that adequately explains the LHC data and remain consistent with prior experiments. Their explanation predicts the existence of yet another new particle, called a Z', with a mass slightly greater than that of the W'. This additional particle, if it exists, should be seen as more data is collected from the LHC. Amusingly, there is one collision by-product that has already been seen by the CMS experiment at the LHC that supports the existence of this new particle; however, it is not unlikely that this single event is a so-called "background" event, that is a somewhat atypical by-product of a conventional Standard Model process. This theory for the anomalous LHC data will either be confirmed or excluded with further data-taking at the LHC. The ratio of the number of electrons produced in bottom quark decays over the number of muons produced has been measured at the LHC. This ratio is interesting because it can be predicted very precisely from a basic property of the Standard Model: lepton universality. If lepton universality is correct, the ratio of electrons to muons is predicted to be equal to 1. The first measurements of this ratio find a value different from 1 with a statistical significance of about 3 standard deviations. Schmaltz and collaborator proposed a new extension of the Standard Model which can explain the new data. In addition, Schmaltz and collaborators proposed several new measurements of ratios of decay rates which can confirm or rule out the surprising results from the earlier LHC data. The most recent and precise measurements of the cosmic microwave background from the Planck satellite, from a combination of measurements of the dark matter distribution in the universe, and from a measurement of the expansion rate of the universe today show some disagreement when interpreted in terms of the so-called LambdaCDM model. Schmaltz and collaborators proposed an alternative model to LambdaCDM in which the usual cold dark matter is replaced by a new ``dark sector". This sector consists of a cold dark matter particle which interacts with a newly postulated dark radiation component of the universe. The dark radiation can help explain the discrepancy in measurements of the expansion rate, and the dark matter interactions subtly modify the clumping of dark matter at large scales, thus potentially explaining both kinds of tensions in the data. In two publications Schmaltz described the new model and then performed a precision comparison of the predictions of the model with all currently available cosmological data. The results favor the new model at the level of three standard deviations with current data. Quantum Field Theory (QFT) is the language we use to describe quantum systems which are consistent with Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity. In particular, the requirement of Einstein’s theory that signals not travel faster than the speed of light constrains the types of interactions which particles can engage in. One consequence of relativity is that these interactions cannot preserve particle number. The stronger the interactions, the more severe the particle number violation in a given Relativistic QFT. When particle number violation is strong, it becomes very difficult to adequately parameterize the quantum wave function (which characterizes the state of a quantum system). For example, though we can formulate the QFT which describes the strong force as a set of interactions between quark and gluon particles, we have no clear idea how to express the proton state in terms of these quarks and gluons. This is because the proton, though a bound state of quarks and gluons, is not a state of a fixed number of particles due to strong interactions. Yet, understanding the proton state is very important in order to theoretically predict the reaction rates observed at the LHC in Geneva, which is a proton-proton collider. Katz has formulated a new approach to QFT, which among other things offers a way to adequately approximate the quantum wave function of a bound state at strong coupling. The approximation scheme is related to the fact that any sensible QFT (including that of the strong interactions) is at short distances approximately self-similar upon rescaling of space and time. It turns out that keeping track of the response upon this rescaling is important in efficiently parameterizing the state. Katz and collaborators have used this observation to approximate the state of the proton in toy versions of the strong force. In the late 60s Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg (1979 Nobel Prize awardees) proposed a theory unifying weak and electromagnetic interaction which assumed the existence of new particles, the W and Z bosons. The W and Z bosons were eventually detected in high-energy collision in a particle accelerator at CERN, and the recent discovery of the Higgs meson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), always at CERN, completed the picture. However, deep theoretical considerations indicate that the theory by Glashow, Weinberg and Salam, often referred to as "the standard model" cannot be the whole story: the existence of new particles and new interactions at yet higher energies is widely anticipated. The experiments at the LHC are looking for these, while theorists, like Brower, Rebbi and collaborators, are investigating models for these new interactions. Working in a large national collaboration with access to the most powerful DOE computers Brower, Rebbi and colleagues have been using calculational techniques, similar to those successfully employed for many years to investigate the interactions among quarks in nucleons, to study theories that can describe the expected "beyond the standard model" (BSM) interactions. Their results, which include also a model for dark matter, have been published in several refereed papers in prestigious journals. Various ideas in topologically interesting field theories predict hypothetical objects such as fractional charges and Majorana excitations. However, such fascinating objects have not been seen in particle physics. Nevertheless, these objects demonstrate possible phenomena that quantum field theory can support. Pi used condensed matter physics as a laboratory to study possible realizations and observable effects of these objects predicted by quantum field theory. In recent times there has developed considerable interest among condensed matter field theorists in precisely the same geometrical and topological structures, which were first discovered in particle physics field theories. From particle physicists' point of view, this is an interesting development, since condensed matter provides an arena in which one can concretely realize particle physics ideas. Moreover, particle physicists can learn new ideas from condensed matter physics. Higgs phenomenon is precisely an important particle physics realization of condensed matter ideas. In contrast to the small distance characterizing condensed matter systems, field theory also describes large distance physics characterizing cosmology. Pi worked on various geometrical effects in the standard theory of cosmology, viz general relativity.« less
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  1. Boston Univ., MA (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
Report Number(s):
TRN: US1700307
DOE Contract Number:
Resource Type:
Technical Report
Research Org:
Boston Univ., MA (United States)
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE Office of Science (SC), High Energy Physics (HEP) (SC-25)
Country of Publication:
United States