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Researchers at CERN are on a subatomic hunt to detect rare particle decay

Scientists at CERN are conducting experiments in an effort to reveal new laws of physics.

An experiment at CERN in Geneva, called NA62, is designed to let scientists watch a rare kind of particle decay, writes Ryan F. Mandelbaum for Gizmodo. Most particles, with the exception of the ones out of which we ourselves are made, and a couple of others—fall apart (decay) into other particles in a tiny fraction of a second. (Some of these particles survive only a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, or even less!)

The physicists working on the NA62 experiment are searching for subatomic particles that may reveal new laws of physics. Using a new detection method, the team may have finally spotted what they’re looking for. They are hunting for quarks, the building blocks of other subatomic particles. There are six kinds: the common up and down quark, the strange and charm quarks, and the rarest top and bottom quarks.

Protons and neutrons contain only up and down quarks. The experiment’s goal is to manufacture as many kaon particles, as possible. Kaons contain an up quark, along with the antiparticle of the strange quark. NA62 produces kaons by hitting a target with a beam of high-energy protons from an adjacent particle accelerator. The team passes the beam through a detector and makes measurements while the particles are traveling.

An incredibly rare, on-in-10 billion result, is that it splits into a neutrino, an antineutrino, and a “pi-on.” The team presented their first candidate at a seminar held by CERN. They spotted a potential instance of this particular kaon decay.

“They’re not at a point of scientific significance yet, but they’ve demonstrated that their technique works,” Bob Tschirart, chief project officer of the Fermi National Lab, said. He pointed out that NA62 has the potential to observe as many as 100 events. Given the one-in-ten billion odds, that could bring the uncertainty in the measurement down by a lot.

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