One of the major intellectual achievements of the 20th century was the development of the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics. This model succeeded in classifying all of the elementary particles known at the time into a hierarchy of groups having similar quantum properties. The validity of this model to date was confirmed by the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. However, the Standard Model as it currently exists leaves open many questions about the universe, including such fundamental questions as to why the Higgs mass has the value it has and why there is no antimatter in the universe. An important area to search for answers to these and other open questions about the universe, how it came to be, and why it is the way it is, is to study rare decays of kaons, as a probe of science Beyond the Standard Model (BSM). Kaons are the lightest particles containing a strange quark. The kaon physics program at the CERN Laboratory, Geneva, Switzerland includes measurements of the ultra-rare decays of kaons, including precision investigations of the weak interaction, and searches for violations of and for signatures of physics beyond the Standard Model. This project will focus on the study of ultra-rare decays.
The George Mason University group is a key participant and the sole U.S. group in the CERN NA62 experiment, whose primary objective is to measure the rate of an ultra-rare decay of charged kaons, through the flavor-changing neutral current to a charged pion and a pair of neutrinos. The rate of this transition is predicted in the Standard Model, while alternative models predict very different rates. Hence this challenging measurement has the potential to provide important evidence for new physics beyond the Standard Model. George Mason has been fully engaged in the experimental design, construction, operations and analysis of data from this experiment.
The broader impacts of the George Mason program are extensive, providing extensive summer research experiences for undergraduate students through the CERN Summer Research Programme, and in providing leadership and mentoring for the Virginia QuarkNet Center, which attracts high school teachers and students to the excitement of particle physics.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.