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Duke Research - Suspicious bump sparks new physics debate

particle collisions

April 12, 2011

Suspicious bump sparks new physics debate

An anomalous bump in data from the Fermi lab’s particle-smashing Tevatron could be the first hint of completely unexpected physics found in more than 50 years.

The validity of the discovery is still unclear, but the bump drew the attention of the LA Times, New York Times and several other media outlets and is now undergoing even more intense scrutiny in the physics community.

Physicists announced the result on April 7 and posted a paper to, a physics Web site, the night before.

They argue the bump is real and that it represents a possible new elementary particle or even a new force of nature. They also notes that there’s only about a one in a thousand chance that the result is an error in the analysis.

“I have no doubt the effect is real,” says Duke physicist Mark Kruse, who is one of several hundred co-authors on the paper but did not directly analyze the data. “The probability is small that the result is a ‘fluke’ or a statistical fluctuation, but that’s not really the main issue.”

The main issue is instead the interpretation of the bump. “I think the bump in the data is due to mis-modeling of the background particle interactions and not new physics,” Kruse says, adding that other scientists felt so strongly that the result needed more analysis that they removed their names from the new paper.

“No one can say for sure that the data currently show new physics or they don’t. The physicists have checked the anomaly against other hypotheses and the bump seems to persist,” Kruse says. “There may be something more subtle going on there, but it’s going to take a few more months to figure out.”

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