Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Measuring The Strong Force Coupling Constant

The Latest Measurements Of The Strong Force Coupling Constant

The strong force coupling constant has a global average best fit value with a precision of a little less than 0.7% which is slowly but steadily improving over time according to the linked preprint released today. After considering the latest available data, the strength of the coupling constant at the Z boson mass momentum transfer scale is as follows:


This means, roughly, that there is a 95% chance that the true value of the strong force coupling constant is between 0.1168 and 0.1199.

Why Does This Matter?

This roughly 27% precision increase in the precision of the global average, from plus or minus 0.0011 until the latest measurements, matters because the strong force coupling constant is a key bottleneck limiting the accuracy of calculations made throughout the Standard Model in phenomena that have significant QCD (i.e. strong force physics) contributions.

The Example Of Muon g-2

For example, 98.5% of the uncertainty involved in calculating the theoretically expected value of the muon magnetic moment, i.e. muon g-2, in the Standard Model comes from uncertainties in the strong force physics part of that calculation, even though the strong force contribution to muon g-2 accounts for only about one part in 16,760 of the final value of the muon g-2 calculation.

The remaining 1.5% of the uncertainty comes from weak force and electromagnetic force physics uncertainties, with 92.6% of that uncertainty, in turn, coming from weak force physics as opposed to electromagnetic force physics uncertainties, even though the weak force component of the calculation has only about a one part per 759,000 impact on the final value of the muon g-2 calculation.

One part of the strong force contribution to the muon g-2 calculation (hadronic light by light) has a 25% margin of error. The other part of the strong force contribution to the muon g-2 calculation (hadronic vacuum polarization) has a a 0.6% margin of error. The weak force component of the calculation has a 0.7% margin of error. The electromagnetic component of the calculation, in contrast, has a mere 1 part in 1.46 billion margin of error.

The overall discrepancy between a 2004 measurement of muon g-2 and the Standard Model prediction was one part in about 443,000. So, a 0.7% imprecision in a Standard Model constant necessary to make every single QCD calculation seriously impedes the ability of the Standard Model to make more precise predictions.

Implications For Beyond The Standard Model Physics Searches

Imprecision makes it hard to prove or disprove beyond the Standard Model physics theories, because with a low level of precision, both possibilities are often consistent with the Standard Model.

Even "numerology" hypothesizing ways to calculate the strong force coupling constant from first principles is pretty much useless due to this imprecision, because coming up with first principles combinations of numbers that can match a quantity with a margin of error of plus or minus 0.7% is trivially easy to do in myriad ways that are naively sensible, and hence not very meaningful.

Is The Margin Of Error In The Strong Force Coupling Constant Overstated?

Given the relative stability of the global average over the last couple of decades or so, during which many experiments would have been expected to have tweaked this result more dramatically than they actually have if the stated margin of error was accurate, my intuition is also that the margin of error that is stated is probably greater than the actual difference between the global average value and the true value of this Standard Model constant.

I suspect that the actual precision is closer to plus or minus 0.0004 and is overstated due to conservative estimates of systemic error by experimental high energy physicists. This would put the true "two sigma" error bars that naively mean that there is a 95% chance that the true value is within them at 0.1175 to 0.1191.

A review of the relevant experimental data can be found in Section 9.4 of a June 5, 2018 review for the Particle Data Group.

Why Is The Strong Force Coupling  Constant So Hard To Measure?

The strong force coupling constant can't be measured directly.

It has to be inferred from physics results involving hadrons (composite particles made up of quarks) and from top force physics measurements that infer the properties of top quarks from their decay products.

So, once you have your raw experimental data, you then have to fit that data to a set of very long and difficult to calculation equations that include the strong force coupling constant as one of the variables, containing multiple quantities that have to be approximated using infinite series that a truncated to a manageable level, to convert the experimental data into an estimated value of the strong force coupling constant that can be inferred from the results.

The main holdup on getting a more precise measurement of the strength of the strong force coupling constant is the difficulty involved in calculating what value for the constant is implied by an experimental result, not, for the most part, the precision of the experimental data itself.

For example, the masses and properties of the various hadrons that are observed (i.e. of composite particles made of quarks) have been measured experimentally to vastly greater precision than they can be calculated from first principles, even though a first principles calculation is, in principle, possible with enough computing power and enough time, and almost nobody in the experimental or theoretical physics community thinks that the strong force part of the Standard Model of particle physics in incorrect at a fundamental level.

This math is hard mostly because QCD calculations are very hard to do in practice to sufficient precision, which is mostly because the infinite series involved in calculating them converge so much more slowly than those in other parts of quantum physics, so far more terms must be calculated to get comparable levels of precision.

The Running Of The Strong Force Coupling Constant

Another probe of beyond the Standard Model physics is to look at how the strength of the strong force coupling constant varies with momentum transfer scale. 

Like all Standard Model empirically determined constants, the strength of the strong force coupling constant varies with energy scale, which is why the global average has to be reported in a manner normalized for energy scale, something called the "running" of the strong force coupling constant.

At low energies, in the Standard Model (illustrated in the chart below from a source linked in the linked blog post), as confirmed experimentally, the strong force coupling constant gets close to or near zero at zero energy, peaks at about 216 MeV, and then gradually decreases as the energy scale increases beyond that point. There is considerable debate over whether it goes to zero, or instead to a finite value close to zero, at zero energy, which is important for a variety of theoretical reasons and has not been definitively resolved.

The running of the strong force coupling constant in beyond the Standard Model theories like Supersymmetry (a.k.a. SUSY) is materially different at high energies than it is in the Standard Model (as shown in the charge below from the following linked post where the inverse of the strength of the strong force coupling constant at increasing energies on a logarithmic scale shown on the X-axisi is the SU(3) line) and the differences might be possible to distinguish with maximal amounts of high energy data from the LHC, is progress can be made in the precision of those measurements, as I explained in the linked blog post from January 28, 2014:

The strong force coupling constant, which is 0.1184(7) at the Z boson mass, would be about 0.0969 at 730 GeV and about 0.0872 at 1460 GeV, in the Standard Model and the highest energies at which the strong force coupling constant could be measured at the LHC is probably in this vicinity. 
In contrast, in the MSSM [minimal supersymmetric standard model], we would expect a strong force coupling constant of about 0.1024 at 730 GeV (about 5.7% stronger) and about 0.0952 at 1460 GeV (about 9% stronger). 
Current individual measurements of the strong force coupling constant at energies of about 40 GeV and up (i.e. without global fitting or averaging over multiple experimental measurements at a variety of energy scales), have error bars of plus or minus 5% to 10% of the measured values. But, even a two sigma distinction between the SM prediction and SUSY prediction would require a measurement precision of about twice the percentage difference between the predicted strength under the two models, and a five sigma discovery confidence would require the measurement to be made with 1%-2% precision (with somewhat less precision being tolerable at higher energy scales).
The same high energy running without a logarithmic scale and an inverse function plotted looks like this in the range where it has been experimentally measured:

In a version of SUSY where supersymmetric particles are very heavy (in tens of TeV mass range, for example), however, the discrepancies in the running of the strong force coupling constant between the Standard Model and SUSY crop up sufficiently to be distinguished only at significantly higher energy scales than those predicted for the MSSM version of SUSY.

The paper linked above doesn't discuss the latest measurements of the running of the strong force coupling constant, however. 

So far, the running of the strong force coupling constant is indistinguishable from the Standard Model prediction in all currently available data that I have seen, while monitoring new experimental results regarding this matter fairly closely since my last comprehensive review of it four and a half years ago. Of course, as always, I welcome comments reporting any new data that I have missed regarding this issue.


neo said...

whats ur fav extension of the SM to explain the remaining mysteries?

andrew said...

Dirac neutrinos which receive mass in a manner similar to the Higgs mechanism, and quantum gravity effects that explain dark matter and dark gravity a la A. Deur with a single massless graviton.

The aggregate mass of the fundamental particles squared is equal to Higgs vev squared, and a Koide-like relationship between the fermion masses that arises dynamically via W boson exchanges.

andrew said...

I think that the CKM matrix is logically prior to the fermion masses, and that CP violation in fermions may have a source separate and independent of the other three parameters of that matrix and of the PMNS matrix.

andrew said...

Also, once quantum gravity is merged with the SM that changes the running of all of the SM constants subtly, and I think it is quite likely that this subtle tweak will lead to gauge unification.

Quantum gravity effects will explain the impossible early galaxy problem and the 21cm result that is consistent with there not being any dark matter.

Other than the graviton, I do not think that there are going to be any non-SM particles of any kind other than possibly more fundamental particles that can only give rise to SM particles and a massless graviton.

I do not think that any fundamental forces other than the three of the SM and graviton carried by a massless graviton will be discovered.

I am not strongly committed to the concept that the universe is either strictly causal or strictly local. I am agnostic about whether space-time comes in quanta or is continuous.

I think that the baryon asymmetry of the universe arises from another universe on the other side of the Big Bang in the time dimension, in which the second law of thermodynamics has the opposite direction.

I think that cosmological inflation is at best unprovable and is quite likely wrong.

andrew said...

I think it is plausible that there is a maximal mass-energy density and that this gives rise to asymptotic safety in gravity.

I think that gravitational energy is conserved and can be localized.

I think that there are no primordial black holes, and that any wormholes are not sufficiently large to transfer anything macroscopic.

I think that the muon g-2 discrepancy is due to a combination of experimental and theoretical error and will disappear, as will evidence for non-PMNS model neutrino oscillations such as sterile neutrinos, and evidence for violations of lepton universality of the kind purportedly seen in B meson decays.

I think Koide's rule for chaged leptons will hold up to at least the ratio of neutrino mass to charged lepton mass level of precision.

I think that some variant of Koide's rule will fit the relative masses of the charged leptons. I think that the lightest neutrino mass eigenstate is on the order of 1 meV or less and that it has a non-zero mass and that there is a normal mass hierarchy for neutrinos.

I don't have a strong intuition regarding the ratio of neutrinos to antineutrions in our universe as a whole.

It isn't implausible that some version of quark-lepton complementarity could prove to be correct.

I think that baryon number and lepton number are separately conserved except in sphaleron interactions, and I wouldn't be surprised if sphaleron interactions are found not to exist at all if we could ever generate of means to test that hypothesis. I'm not quite sure what the Noether's theorem implications are of that fact. There are no flavor changing neutral currents, no neutrinoless beta decay and there is no proton decay.

I think that we may be missing a rule or two in QCD that is critical to understanding the spectrum of scalar and axial vector hadrons. I would not be surprised if one of those rules has the effect of prohibiting glue balls. I think that all true hadrons with more than three valence quarks will prove to be wildly unstable although somewhat less unstable "hadron molecules" might be a thing. I think it isn't implausible that we could discover top quark hadrons that are extremely rare except at extremely high energies that are very short lived.

I expect that there are deep reasons for the gravity equals QCD squared coincidences that we observe.

neo said...

no mention of string theory? personally i'm skeptical of both susy and extra dimensions.

regarding space time i've wondered why if QM has a wave particle duality, space and time couldn't also be both continuous and respect lorentz invariance, and discrete to explain BH entropy. it's a contentious-discrete duality

andrew said...

I do not think that there are an integer number of extra dimensions. It isn't entirely implausible to me that the four dimensions of space-time that we observe are emergent rather than fundamental (as is common in loop quantum gravity-like quantum gravity theories), and/or that the dimensionality of space-time could be a fractal quantity that is non-integer (something also suggested by some descriptions of quantum mechanics).

I think mainstream SUSY with sparticals and extra Higgs bosons is almost surely wrong, but the particular balance of Standard Model constants that exists may reflect some fermion-boson symmetry in nature, because the sum of the square of the masses of the fundamental bosons is very close to the sum of the square of the masses of the fundamental fermions, and these sums may actually be equal at some appropriate running of those masses with energy scale (e.g. perhaps at the Higgs vev scale).

I have no opinion on a continuous-discrete space-time duality.

andrew said...

String theory/M Theory may have some concepts that have some place in a final theory.

But, it has gone far afield, is amorphous, and its commitment to pursue versions of string theory that reflect bad hypotheses like SUSY, Majorana neutrinos, dark matter particle theories, quintessence based dark energy theories, and a commitment to allowing baryon and lepton number violation in pursuit of a pure energy Big Bang, have led investigators in the field to explore corners of it that are particularly unfruitful.

neo said...

I have no opinion on a continuous-discrete space-time duality.


i'm not aware of any extensive literature on this .duality i'm proposing, just an observation that

1- nature seemingly respects lorentz invariance to a very high degree implying spacetime is continuous
2- black hole entropy seemingly implies spacetime is discrete

based on current LHC and other results I'm inclined to agree with you on string theory. obviously data can change this.

i've learned on physics forums urs scheiber and mitchell porter aren't fans of loop quantum gravity and even regard it is unphysical and an error

since gravity is universal, i'm enchanted with ideas that gravity is a byproduct of QM, or that QM can be extended to give rise to gravity like phenomena