Physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
have observed anomalous data that suggest they may have discovered a new elementary particle or a new fundamental force of nature. Or, they acknowledged Wednesday, they may have simply observed a chance statistical fluctuation in their results.
If the results are real, they could provide the first significant change in what is known as the standard model of physics in more than five decades, and researchers are holding their breaths in anticipation.
"If this thing is real, it is a new type of very heavy particle that is not one of the ones theorists have been sitting around thinking about," said physicist Michael Witherell of UC Santa Barbara
. "It would be very heavy, very interesting and very fundamental. It would turn over our understanding of particle physics."
Added Harvard University
physicist Lisa Randall: "If it is really something new, it would be extremely exciting."
But scientists on the Fermilab team say there is about a 1 in 1,000 chance that the results are a statistical fluke — odds far too high for them to claim a discovery.
"That's no more than what physicists tend to call an 'observation' or an 'indication,' " said Caltech physicist Harvey Newman.
For the finding to be considered real, researchers have to reduce the chances of a statistical fluke to about 1 in a million.