Science and Technology

Blowing up the standard model?

JMU physics has role in national lab experiment

by Eric Gorton

2017 muon research 1

SUMMARY: Within the past couple weeks, JMU has shipped 24 custom-designed and built power supply boxes to the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

The standard model for physics, a theory developed over decades to describe three of the four known fundamental forces in the universe, is getting a rigorous test at a national laboratory in Chicago and the JMU physics department is right in the thick of it. 

Within the past couple weeks, JMU has shipped 24 custom-designed and built power supply boxes to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The boxes are powering calorimeter detectors being used in a project called The Muon g-2 Experiment.

top down view of inside of power box and its electrical components

Results from the three-year project, which has been years in the making, could rewrite scientists’ picture of the universe and how it works. 

"The g-2 (g minus 2) experiment is one of those things where people are saying, 'Look, CERN found the Higgs particle.  It's like the final element to complete the standard model. It was predicted, it had to be there and, boom, it's there,’" said Kevin Giovanetti, professor of physics and astronomy. "But people are saying now that the Holy Grail is to find something that shows us the standard model can't work, some evidence that it's a great theory, but if you push it . . ." 

That evidence appeared to show up about a decade ago in experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. The experiment at Fermilab looks to confirm the Brookhaven findings with higher precision. "When their result came out in the mid 2000s, they were three standard deviations away from predictions by theorists, so there's this sense that there's a hint of disagreement between what the standard model can do and what the measurement has shown us," Giovanetti said. "So this could be the very first evidence of a break away from the standard model and that's the key to this experiment." 

The power sources shipped to Fermilab were designed and built at JMU by Giovanetti and his students. "I learned a lot about physics at the beginning when we discussed why we were making these," said new physics graduate Premal Patel, "and then I was constantly learning about electronics."

Premal Patel, dressed in yellow t-shirt and dark shorts, works on a power box at a work bench.

Giovanetti said the physics department likes to give students opportunities to do more than just learn from lectures and books. "We don't want to send every single physicist out of our department with the same sort of blueprint. All of this stuff involves building new skill sets. We try to promote the option for students who are interested in these kinds of things to be hands-on developers," he said. 

JMU got involved with the project working with colleagues at the University of Virginia.  More information about the Muon g-2 experiment can be found here:

Another story about Giovanetti's muon research is here

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Published: Friday, June 16, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, June 25, 2020

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