Links and Comments: Muon news

It’s pronounced mew-on, not moo-on, I learned today.

Couple links to articles, out of many in the past couple days, about some significant results from Fermilab, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois, concerning the nature of one of the fundamental particles (along with proton, neutron, electron, and so on), the muon, which is basically like a very heavy electron that is created in some circumstances but very quickly disintegrates.

Slate, Joshua Keating, 8 April: The Fat, Wobbly, Nuisance of a Particle That Could Change How We Understand the Universe, subtitled, “What exactly happened in the physics world this week?”

An interview with Science News reporter Emily Conover.


New York Times, science writer Dennis Overbye, 7 April: A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics, subtitled, “Experiments with particles known as muons suggest that there are forms of matter and energy vital to the nature and evolution of the cosmos that are not yet known to science.”

Without address this news directly, a couple comments.

  • I have a nostalgic association to Fermilab, since my family lived near there, from about 1968 to 1971, while it was under construction — because my father was an architect on the team building the support structures on the surface.
  • Coincidentally, I’ve been reading several books that cover particle physics and the ‘gaps’ in the “standard model” built up over the past century: Frank Wilczek’s short book FUNDAMENTALS: TEN KEYS TO REALITY (summarized here); the latest by Neil deGrasse Tyson (with James Trefil), COSMIC QUERIES, which I read this past week; and the latest by Michio Kaku, THE GOD EQUATION , which I’ve just begun. So, gathering my notes on these books, which will take a while more, I think I’ll appreciate the significance of this discovery… real soon now.
  • Finally I have to note that headline to articles in newspapers are not written by the reporters. All publications — in particular, the editors of those reporters — are looking for drama. So even NYT has the phrase “Upend the Known Laws of Physics,” which suggests to naive readers that science is changing, yet again, suggesting that you can’t trust it. No. No. This discovery would expand the understanding of the known laws of physics into and ever-tinier area — associated with the tiniest second at the very beginning of the universe — that has not previously been understood. It’s extremely unlikely (though not impossible) that this discovery would “upend” or reformulate the conclusions in fundamental physics laid down over the past century.
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