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Physicists At JMU Join Groundbreaking Muons Study

James Madison University

Several JMU physicists lent a hand to a groundbreaking particle physics discovery that jolted the global science community since last week. WMRA’s Calvin Pynn reports. Note: WMRA's operating license is held by JMU's board of visitors.

The g-2 (G-minus-two) experiment at Fermilab found that subatomic particles known as muons wobble in a way that defies the Standard Model of physics. That could possibly indicate the existence of undiscovered particles.

Credit James Madison University
Kevin Giovanetti was part of the Fermilab team. He's a physics professor at JMU.

KEVIN GIOVANETTI: There might be a new particle out there, but there also could be a different field, so we have the electric field, we have the weak field, we have the strong force, and then we have gravity. 

Kevin Giovanetti is a physics professor at James Madison University.

GIOVANETTI: Is there another interaction that we have is just so small that we haven't seen it yet, or so disguised that we haven't identified it yet?

To find out, scientists shot billions of those muons through a 50-foot magnetic ring at the speed of light at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, better known as FermiLab. Hundreds of scientists around the world contributed to the experiment over the past several years, including Giovanetti and five of his students at JMU.

They developed a power management system used to detect the muons as they decayed during the experiment.

Credit Fermilab
Fermilab is America's particle physics and accelerator laboratory, not far from Chicago.

GIOVANETTI: Our first investment was to build a power supply that was supposed to actually provide the straightforward power that would energize the detectors itself, and then there was the detector power management system, which was going to handle the electronic power. That actually brought us to the point where we were changing from the detector component to the magnetic field aspect.  

Premal Patel worked on the team for his senior research project.

PREMAL PATEL: What we needed, or rather what they needed at Fermilab, was something that's rackmountable. Imagine a server room, where you have arrays of cabinets where you have little slices that you can pop in and out. We were creating a two-unit wide slice that basically provided the low voltage, but higher current needed for the detectors.

Patel’s work on the g-2 (G-MINUS-TWO) experiment ended when he graduated, but he was pleased to learn about the discovery last week.

PATEL: I heard about this all over Facebook last week, I saw many articles about it and I reached out to [Dr. Giovanetti] and was like 'man, your work became fruitful.' Any and all physics work requires a lot of patience.   

The results of the g-2 are still preliminary and the team will analyze them and add more data in the coming years. Giovanetti will continue his work with the project going forward.

GIOVANETTI: Once we have a good measurement and theory stays fixed without finding any problems with theirs on their side, we will have a huge difference between theory and experiment, and that will unquestionably be evidence of new physics.

Calvin Pynn is a radio reporter, writer, and photographer based in Harrisonburg, Virginia.