23. March 2023

New ATLAS result weighs in on the W boson New ATLAS result weighs in on the W boson

Physicists present new result of the ATLAS detector

The W boson is the mediator particle of the electroweak force. Discovered in the 1980s at CERN, its properties remain challenging to measure within the Standard Model of particle physics. An international team has now presented a new and improved W-boson mass measurement by the ATLAS experiment at CERN. Physicists from the University of Bonn were involved in the results: Dr. Philipp König and Dr. Oleh Kivernyk are part of the ATLAS team, which has now presented the results at the Moriond electroweak conference. The two young scientists work in the research groups led by Prof. Dr. Klaus Desch and Priv.-Doz. Philip Bechtle and Prof. Dr. Ian Brock at the Physics Institute.

Download all images in original size © CERN

For the past 40 years, the W boson has been making headlines. In the 1980s, the announcement of its discovery helped confirm the theory of the electroweak interaction – a unified description of electromagnetic and weak forces. Today, measurements of its mass (mW) are testing the consistency of the Standard Model it helped to form. 

The W-boson mass is closely related to the masses of nature’s heaviest particles, including the top quark and the Higgs boson. However, if additional heavy particles exist, the mass might deviate from the Standard Model prediction. By comparing direct measurements of the W-boson mass to theoretical calculations, physicists are looking for deviations that could be an indicator of new phenomena. To be sufficiently sensitive to such deviations, mass measurements need to have amazingly small uncertainties, of the order of 0.01%. 

In 2017, the ATLAS Experiment at CERN published the LHC’s first measurement of the W-boson mass, giving a value of 80,370 MeV with an uncertainty of 19 MeV. At the time, this measurement was the most precise single-experiment result, and was in agreement with the Standard Model prediction and all other experimental results. Last year, the CDF Collaboration at Fermilab published an even more precise measurement of the W-boson mass, analysing the full dataset provided by the Tevatron collider. With a value of 80,434 MeV and an uncertainty of 9 MeV it differed significantly from the Standard Model prediction and from the other experimental results.

Improved re-analysis of W-boson mass measurement

In a new preliminary result released for the Moriond electroweak conference, the ATLAS Collaboration reports an improved re-analysis of its initial W-boson mass measurement. ATLAS finds mW to be 80,360 MeV, with an uncertainty of just 16 MeV. The measured value is 10 MeV lower than the previous ATLAS result and is in agreement with the Standard Model.

For this new analysis, ATLAS physicists revisited its data collected in 2011 at a centre-of-mass energy of 7 TeV (corresponding to 4.6 fb-1, also used in ATLAS’ previous measurement). Researchers employed improved statistical methods and refinements in the treatment of the data, enabling them to reduce the uncertainty of their mass measurement by about 15%.

Observation of collision events

Philipp König, member of the physics institute and one of the main analysers of this measurement, explains: „We focused on collision events where the W boson decays into an electron or a muon (leptons), and a corresponding neutrino. The W-boson mass was then determined by fitting the kinematic distributions of the decay leptons in simulation to the data. The main difference between the 2017 and the new measurement is in the method used to perform these fits. While the previous measurement used the available data solely to determine the W-boson mass, with systematic uncertainties added after the fact, the new measurement simultaneously adjusts the systematic uncertainties together with the W-boson mass. This improvement reduced several systematic uncertainties, particularly those related to the theoretical modeling of W-boson production and decay.“

Crucial to the measurement were the parton distribution functions (PDFs) of the proton, which model the relative momenta of its quark and gluon constituents. PDFs incorporate a multitude of data from different particle physics experiments. Since the previous measurement, these sets have been refined by including more data. The new ATLAS measurement evaluated the dependence of the measured W-boson mass on PDFs sets considering more recent versions of these.

Future measurements of the W-boson mass are expected by other LHC experiments, as well as further studies by ATLAS using data samples recorded in different pile-up conditions and at different centre-of-mass energies. These will provide independent evaluations of the experimental results obtained so far.

Display of a W boson decay
Display of a W boson decay © ATLAS Collaboration / CERN

This animated view shows a candidate W→μν event using proton-proton collisions at 7 TeV center of mass energy at the LHC. Starting from the center of the ATLAS detector, the reconstructed tracks of the charged particles in the Inner Detector (ID) are shown as red lines. The energy deposits in the calorimeters are shown as yellow boxes. The identified muon is shown as a longer red dashed line. The missing transverse momentum is shown by a green dashed line.

Improved W boson Mass Measurement using 7 TeV Proton-Proton Collisions with the ATLAS Detector (ATLAS-CONF-2023-004); https://atlas.web.cern.ch/Atlas/GROUPS/PHYSICS/CONFNOTES/ATLAS-CONF-2023-004/

Dr. Philipp König
Physics Institute at the University of Bonn
Email: koenig@physik.uni-bonn.de
Phone: +49 228 73 3209

Dr. Oleh Kivernyk
Physics Institute at the University of Bonn
Email: oleh.kivernyk@cern.ch
Phone: +49 228 73 2445

Priv.-Doz. Philip Bechtle
Physics Institute at the University of Bonn
Email: bechtle@physik.uni-bonn.de
Phone: +49 228 73 2242

Prof. Dr. Klaus Desch
Physics Institute at the University of Bonn
Email: desch@physik.uni-bonn.de
Phone: +49 228 73 3236

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