Science: A Fat Boson Confuses and Excites Particle Physicists

The Story:

Researchers at FermiLab have presented their findings as to the mass of a particular subatomic particle, the W boson. It appears that the W boson is more massive than expected. It is enough bulkier that it may force physicists to re-examine the basics of the standard model (SM) of particle physics. This is exciting: the SM, which has been in place more-or-less unchanged since the 1970s, has been all too successful at explaining results, so much so that it has come to seem a barrier to progress.


In the standard model, there are two sorts of subatomic particle: fermions and bosons. Fermions are the ones we all learn about fairly early in life. Electrons are fermions. And the quarks that make up neutrons and protons are also fermions. Bosons, though, are force carriers. They embody interactions. Photons are bosons. There are also two sorts of boson named for a letter: Z and W bosons: W bosons in particular transmit something called the “weak force,” and are responsible for radioactive decay.

Strange New Worlds:

Science thrives on anomalies and falsification. There is some hope that the reworking of SM made necessary by the bulkiness of the W boson might lead to a more fundamental understanding of matter and energy.


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