December 3, 2021

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Lesson of the Day: ‘A Tiny Particle’s Wobble Could Upend the Known Laws of Physics’

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2. What are muons? What did Chris Polly, a physicist, observe that was unusual about their behavior?

3. How does this recent experiment at Fermilab relate to a similar experiment at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in 2001?

4. What did Dr. Polly mean when he asked, “What monsters might be lurking there?” Do you have this same curiosity about the significance of the muon’s aberrant behavior? Why or why not?

5. What does it take for experimental results to be confirmed as a physics discovery? What is next in the process for the muon experiment?

6. What kind of questions might the muon experiment answer? Have you ever wondered about questions like the ones listed in the article?

7. How did physicists respond to the announcement on April 7 of the first results from the Muon g-2 experiment hosted at Fermilab? What do you think of the results?

Option 1: Read the rest of the article.

Here are some guiding questions to help you reflect on what you learn as you read each of the following sections:

  • ‘Who ordered that?’ — What else did you learn about muons, the g factor and the original experiment in Brookhaven?

  • The big move — What details stood out to you about preparations for the Fermilab experiment?

  • Into the dark — What new information did you gain about the results of the Fermilab experiment?

Then react to the final paragraphs of the article:

Physicists say the anomaly has given them ideas for how to search for new particles. Among them are particles lightweight enough to be within the grasp of the Large Hadron Collider or its projected successor. Indeed, some might already have been recorded but are so rare that they have not yet emerged from the blizzard of data recorded by the instrument.

Another candidate called the Z-prime could shed light on some puzzles in the Big Bang, according to Gordan Krnjaic, a cosmologist at Fermilab.

The g-2 result, he said in an email, could set the agenda for physics in the next generation.

“If the central value of the observed anomaly stays fixed, the new particles can’t hide forever,” he said. “We will learn a great deal more about fundamental physics going forward.”

What do you think? How big a deal do you think these results are? And, what new discoveries do you think the continuing Muon g-2 experiment will lead to?

Option 2: Explain one or more of the concepts discussed in the article via a creative piece.

Muon particles, the g factor and the Standard Model may not be familiar terms for most teenagers — or for most adults. Take one or more of the ideas you learned by watching the video in the warm-up activity and by reading the Times article, and help break it down by making a creative piece. Your goal is to help people without a strong grasp of particle physics understand.

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