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Some recent posts you might want to read March 6, 2010

Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, internet, news, physics, science.
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As the less distracted among you know, I have moved my blogging activities to scientific blogging last April. I wish to report here a list of interesting posts I have produced there in the course of the last few months (precisely, since the start of 2010). They are given in reverse chronological order and with zero commentary – come see if you are curious.

Post summary – April 2009 May 1, 2009

Posted by dorigo in astronomy, Blogroll, cosmology, internet, news, personal, physics, science, social life.
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As the less distracted among you have already figured out, I have permanently moved my blogging activities to www.scientificblogging.com. The reasons for the move are explained here.

Since I know that this site continues to be visited -because the 1450 posts it contains draw traffic regardless of the inactivity- I am providing here monthly updates of the pieces I write in my new blog here. Below is a list of posts published last month at the new site.

The Large Hadron Collider is Back Together – announcing the replacement of the last LHC magnets

Hera’s Intriguing Top Candidates – a discussion of a recent search for FCNC single top production in ep collisions

Source Code for the Greedy Bump Bias – a do-it-yourself guide to study the bias of bump fitting

Bump Hunting II: the Greedy Bump Bias – the second part of the post about bump hunting, and a discussion of a nagging bias in bump fitting

Rita Levi Montalcini: 100 Years and Still Going Strong – a tribute to Rita Levi Montalcini, Nobel prize for medicine

The Subtle Art of Bump Hunting – Part I – a discussion of some subtleties in the search for new particle signals

Save Children Burnt by Caustic Soda! – an invitation to donate to Emergency!

Gates Foundation to Chat with Bloggers About World Malaria Day – announcing a teleconference with bloggers

Dark Matter: a Critical Assessment of Recent Cosmic Ray Signals – a summary of Marco Cirelli’s illuminating talk at NeuTel 2009

A Fascinating New Higgs Boson Search by the DZERO Experiment – a discussion on a search for tth events recently published by the Tevatron experiment

A Banner Worth a Thousand Words – a comment on my new banner

Confirmed for WCSJ 2009 – my first post on the new site

Latest global fits to SM observables: the situation in March 2009 March 25, 2009

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A recent discussion in this blog between well-known theorists and phenomenologists, centered on the real meaning of the experimental measurements of top quark and W boson masses, Higgs boson cross-section limits, and other SM observables, convinces me that some clarification is needed.

The work has been done for us: there are groups that do exactly that, i.e. updating their global fits to express the internal consistency of all those measurements, and the implications for the search of the Higgs boson. So let me go through the most important graphs below, after mentioning that most of the material comes from the LEP electroweak working group web site.

First of all, what goes in the soup ? Many things, but most notably, the LEP I/SLD measurements at the Z pole, the top quark mass measurements by CDF and DZERO, and the W mass measurements by CDF, DZERO, and LEP II. Let us give a look at the mass measurements, which have recently been updated.

For the top mass, the situation is the one pictured in the graph shown below. As you can clearly see, the CDF and DZERO measurements have reached a combined precision of 0.75% on this quantity.

The world average is now at M_t = 173.1 \pm 1.3 GeV. I am amazed to see that the first estimate of the top mass, made by a handful of events published by CDF in 1994 (a set which did not even provide a conclusive “observation-level” significance at the time) was so dead-on: the measurement back then was M_t=174 \pm 15 GeV! (for comparison, the DZERO measurement of 1995, in their “observation” paper, was M_t=199 \pm 30 GeV).

As far as global fits are concerned, there is one additional point to make for the top quark: knowing the top mass any better than this has become, by now, useless. You can see it by comparing the constraints on M_t coming from the indirect measurements and W mass measurements (shown by the blue bars at the bottom of the graph above) with the direct measurements at the Tevatron (shown with the green band). The green band is already too narrow: the width of the blue error bars compared to the narrow green band tells us that the SM does not care much where exactly the top mass is, by now.

Then, let us look at the W mass determinations. Note, the graph below shows the situation BEFORE the latest DZERO result;, obtained with 1/fb of data, and which finds M_W = 80401 \pm 44 MeV; its inclusion would not change much of the discussion below, but it is important to stress it.

Here the situation is different: a better measurement would still increase the precision of our comparisons with indirect information from electroweak measurements at the Z. This is apparent by observing that the blue bars have width still smaller than the world average of direct measurements (again in green). Narrow the green band, and you can still collect interesting information on its consistency with the blue points.

Finally, let us look at the global fit: the electroweak working group at LEP displays in the by now famous “blue band plot”, shown below for March 2009 conferences. It shows the constraints on the Higgs boson mass coming from all experimental inputs combined, assuming that the Standard Model holds.

I will not discuss this graph in details, since I have done it repeatedly in the past. I will just mention that the yellow regions have been excluded by direct searches of the Higgs boson at LEP II (on the left, the wide yellow area) and the Tevatron ( the narrow strip on the right). From the plot you should just gather that a light Higgs mass is preferred (the central value being 90 GeV, with +36 and -27 GeV one-sigma error bars). Also, a 95% confidence-level exclusion of masses above 163 GeV is implied by the variation of the global fit \chi^2 with Higgs mass.

I have started to be a bit bored by this plot, because it does not do the best job for me. For one thing, the LEP II limit and the Tevatron limit on the Higgs mass are treated as if they were equivalent in their strength, something which could not be possibly farther from the truth. The truth is, the LEP II limit is a very strong one -the probability that the Higgs has a mass below 112 GeV, say, is one in a billion or so-, while the limit obtained recently by the Tevatron is just an “indication”, because the excluded region (160 to 170 GeV) is not excluded strongly: there still is a one-in-twenty chance or so that the real Higgs boson mass indeed lies there.

Another thing I do not particularly like in the graph is that it attempts to pack too much information: variations of \alpha, inclusion of low-Q^2 data, etcetera. A much better graph to look at is the one produced by the GFitter group instead. It is shown below.

In this plot, the direct search results are introduced with their actual measured probability of exclusion as a function of Higgs mass, and not just in a digital manner, yes/no, as the yellow regions in the blue band plot. And in fact, you can see that the LEP II limit is a brick wall, while the Tevatron exclusion acts like a smooth increase in the global \chi^2 of the fit.

From the black curve in the graph you can get a lot of information. For instance, the most likely values, those that globally have a 1-sigma probability of being one day proven correct, are masses contained in the interval 114-132 GeV. At two-sigma, the Higgs mass is instead within the interval 114-152 GeV, and at three sigma, it extends into the Tevatron-excluded band a little, 114-163 GeV, with a second region allowed between 181 and 224 GeV.

In conclusion, I would like you to take away the following few points:

  • Future indirect constraints on the Higgs boson mass will only come from increased precision measurements of the W boson mass, while the top quark has exhausted its discrimination power;
  • Global SM fits show an overall very good consistency: there does not seem to be much tension between fits and experimental constraints;
  • The Higgs boson is most likely in the 114-132 GeV range (1-sigma bounds from global fits).

Zooming in on the Higgs March 24, 2009

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, science.
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Yesterday Sven Heinemeyer kindly provided me with an updated version of a plot which best describes the experimental constraints on the Higgs boson mass, coming from electroweak observables measured at LEP and SLD, and from the most recent measurements of W boson and top quark masses. It is shown on the right (click to get the full-sized version).

The graph is a quite busy one, but I will try below to explain everything one bit at a time, hoping I keep things simple enough that a non-physicist can understand it.

The axes show suitable ranges of values of the top quark mass (varying on the horizontal axis) and of the W boson masses (on the vertical axis). The value of these quantities is functionally dependent (because of quantum effects connected to the propagation of the particles and their interaction with the Higgs field) on the Higgs boson mass.

The dependence, however, is really “soft”: if you were to double the Higgs mass by a factor of two from its true value, the effect on top and W masses would be only of the order of 1% or less. Because of that, only recently have the determinations of top quark and W boson masses started to provide meaningful inputs for a guess of the mass of the Higgs.

Top mass and W mass measurements are plotted in the graphs in the form of ellipses encompassing the most likely values: their size is such that the true masses should lie within their boundaries, 68% of the time. The red ellipse shows CDF results, and the blue one shows DZERO results.

There is a third measurement of the W mass shown in the plot: it is displayed as a horizontal band limited by two black lines, and it comes from the LEP II measurements. The band also encompasses the 68% most likely W masses, as ellipses do.

In addition to W and top masses, other experimental results constrain the mass of top, W, and Higgs boson. The most stringent of these results are those coming from the LEP experiment at CERN, from detailed analysis of electroweak interactions studied in the production of Z bosons. A wide band crossing the graph from left to right, with a small tilt, encompasses the most likely region for top and W masses.

So far we have described measurements. Then, there are two different physical models one should consider in order to link those measurements to the Higgs mass. The first one is the Standard Model: it dictates precisely the inter-dependence of all the parameters mentioned above. Because of the precise SM predictions, for any choice of the Higgs boson mass one can draw a curve in the top mass versus W mass plane. However, in the graph a full band is hatched instead. This correspond to allowing the Higgs boson mass to vary from a minimum of 114 GeV to 400 GeV. 114 GeV is the lower limit on the Higgs boson mass found by the LEP II experiments in their direct searches, using electron-positron collisions; while 400 GeV is just a reference value.

The boundaries of the red region show the functional dependence of Higgs mass on top and W masses: an increase of top mass, for fixed W mass, results in an increase of the Higgs mass, as is clear by starting from the 114 GeV upper boundary of the red region, since one then would move into the region, to higher Higgs masses. On the contrary, for a fixed top mass, an increase in W boson mass results in a decrease of the Higgs mass predicted by the Standard Model. Also note that the red region includes a narrow band which has been left white: it is the region corresponding to Higgs masses varying between 160 and 170 GeV, the masses that direct searches at the Tevatron have excluded at 95% confidence level.

The second area, hatched in green, is not showing a single model predictions, but rather a range of values allowed by varying arbitrarily many of the parameters describing the supersymmetric extension of the SM called “MSSM”, its “minimal” extension. Even in the minimal extension there are about a hundred additional parameters introduced in the theory, and the values of a few of those modify the interconnection between top mass and W mass in a way that makes direct functional dependencies in the graph impossible to draw. Still, the hatched green region shows a “possible range of values” of the top quark and W boson masses. The arrow pointing down only describes what is expected for W and top masses if the mass of supersymmetric particles is increased from values barely above present exclusion limits to very high values.

So, to summarize, what to get from the plot ? I think the graph describes many things in one single package, and it is not easy to get the right message from it alone. Here is a short commentary, in bits.

  • All experimental results are consistent with each other (but here, I should add, a result from NuTeV which finds indirectly the W mass from the measured ratio of neutral current and charged current neutrino interactions is not shown);
  • Results point to a small patch of the plane, consistent with a light Higgs boson if the Standard Model holds
  • The lower part of the MSSM allowed region is favored, pointing to heavy supersymmetric particles if that theory holds
  • Among experimental determinations, the most constraining are those of the top mass; but once the top mass is known to within a few GeV, it is the W mass the one which tells us more about the unknown mass of the Higgs boson
  • One point to note when comparing measurements from LEP II and the Tevatron experiments: when one draws a 2-D ellipse of 68% contour, this compares unfavourably to a band, which encompasses the same probability in a 1-D distribution. This is clear if one compares the actual measurements: CDF 80.413 \pm 48 MeV (with 200/pb of data), DZERO 80,401 \pm 44 MeV (with five times more statistics), LEP II 80.376 \pm 33 MeV (average of four experiments). The ellipses look like they are half as precise as the black band, while they are actually only 30-40% worse. If the above is obscure to you, a simple graphical explanation is provided here.
  • When averaged, CDF and DZERO will actually beat the LEP II precision measurement -and they are sitting on 25 times more data (CDF) or 5 times more (DZERO).

Live video streaming of single top observation NOW March 10, 2009

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, science.
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You can follow it at this link.

Who discovered single top production ? March 5, 2009

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Both CDF and DZERO have announced yesterday the first observation of electroweak production of single top quarks in proton-antiproton collisions. Both papers (this one from CDF, and this one from DZERO) claim theirs is the first observation of the long sought-after subatomic reaction. Who is right ? Who has more merit in this advancement in human knowledge of fundamental interactions ? Whose analysis is more credible ? Which of the two results has fewer blemishes ?

To me, it is always a matter of which one is the most relevant question. And to me, the most relevant question is, Who cares who did it ? ... with the easy-to-guess answer: not me. As I have had other occasions to say, I am for the advancement of Science, much less for the advancement of scientific careers, leave alone to which experiments those careers belong.

The top quark is interesting, but so far the Tevatron experiments had only studied it when produced in pairs with its antiparticle, through strong interactions. Electroweak production of the top quark is also possible in proton-antiproton collisions, at half the rate. It is one of those rare instances when the electroweak force competes with the strong one, and it is due to the large mass of the top quark: producing two is much more demanding than producing only one, due to the limited energy budget of the collisions. The reactions capable of producing a single top quark are described by the diagrams shown above. In a), a b-quark from one of the projectiles becomes a top by intervention of a weak vector boson; in b), a gluon “fuses” with a W boson and a top quark is created; in c), a W boson is produced off-mass-shell, and it possesses enough energy to decay into a top-bottom pair.

Since 1995, when CDF and DZERO published jointly the observation of the top quark, nobody has ever doubted that electroweak processes would produce single tops as well. Not even one article, to my knowledge, tried to speculate that the top might be so special to have no weak couplings. The very few early attempts at casting doubt on the real nature of what the Tevatron experiments were producing died quickly as statistics improved and the characterization of the newfound quark was furthered. So what is the fuss about finding out that the reaction resulting from the Feynman diagrams shown above can indeed be directly observed ?

There are different facets in a thorough answer to  the above question. First of all, competition between CDF and DZERO: each collaboration badly wanted to get there first, especially since this was correctly predicted from the outset to be a tough nut to crack. Second, because seeing single top production implies having direct access to one element of the Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa mixing matrix, the element V_{tb}, which is after all a fundamental parameter in the standard model (well, to be precise it is a function of some of the latter, namely of the CKM matrix parameters, but let’s not split hairs here). Third, you cannot really see a low-mass Higgs at the Tevatron if you did not measure single top production first, because single top is a background in Higgs boson searches, and one cannot really discover something by assuming something else is there, if one has not proven that beforehand.

So, single top observation is important after all. I am a member of the CDF collaboration, and I am really proud I belong to it, so my judgement on the whole issue might be biased. But if I have to answer the question that gave the title to this post, I will first give you a very short summary of  the results of the two analyses,  deferring to a better day a more detailed discussion. This will allow me to drive home a few points.

The two analyses: a face-to-face summary

  • Significance: both experiments claim that the signal they observe has a statistical significance of 5.0 standard deviations.
  1. CDF uses 3.2 inverse femtobarns, and finds a 5.0-sigma-significance signal of single top production. The sensitivity of the analysis is better measured by the expected significance, which is quoted at 5.9-sigma.
  2. DZERO uses 2.4 inverse femtobarns, and finds a 5.0-sigma-significance of single top production. The sensitivity of the DZERO analysis is quoted at 4.5-sigma.
  • Cross-section: both experiments measure a cross section in agreement with standard model expectations.
  1. CDF measures \sigma = 2.3^{+0.6}{-0.5} pb, a relative uncertainty of about 24%.
  2. DZERO measures \sigma = 3.9 \pm 0.9 pb, a relative uncertainty of about 23%.
  • Measurements of the CKM matrix element: both experiments quote a direct determination of that quantity, which is very close to 1.0 in the SM, but cannot exceed unity.
  1. CDF finds |V_{tb}|=0.91 \pm 0.11, a 12% accuracy.
  2. DZERO finds |V_{tb}|=1.07 \pm 0.12, a 11% accuracy.
  • Data distributions: both experiments have a super-discriminant which combines the information from different searches. This is a graphical display of the power of the analysis, and should be examined with care.

1. CDF in its paper shows the distribution below, as well as the five inputs that were used to obtain it. The distribution shows the single-top contribution in red, stacked over the concurring backgrounds. At high values of the discriminant, the single top signal does stick out, and the black points -the data- follow the sum of all processes nicely.

2.DZERO in its paper has only the distribution shown below. I was underwhelmed when I saw it. Again, backgrounds are stacked one on top of the other, the top distribution is the one from single top (this time shown in blue), and the data is shown by black dots. It does not look like the data prefer the hypothesis of backgrounds+single top over the background-only one all that much!

Maybe I am too partisan to really make a credible point here, and since I did not follow in detail the development of these analyses -from their first publications as evidence for single top, to updates, until yesterday’s papers- I may very well be proven wrong; however, by looking at the two plots above, and by knowing that they both appear to provide a 5.0-sigma significance, I am drawn to the conclusion that DZERO believes their background shapes and normalization much better than CDF does!

Now, believing something is a good thing in almost all human activities except Science. And if two scientific collaborations have a very different way of looking at how well their backgrounds are modeled by Monte Carlo simulations (which, at least as far as the generation of subatomic processes is concerned, are -or can be- the same), which one is to praise more: the one which believes the simulations more to extract their signal, or the one which relies less on them?

The above question is rethorical, and you should have already agreed that you value more a result which is less based on simulations. So let us look into this issue a bit further. CDF bases its result on a total sample of 4780 events, where the total uncertainty is estimated at +-533 events. DZERO bases its own on a sample of 4651 events, with a total uncertainty estimated at +-234 events! What drives such a large difference in the precision of these predictions ?

The culprit is one of the backgrounds, the production of W bosons in association with heavy flavor quarks – an annoying process, which enters all selection of top quarks and Higgs bosons at the Tevatron. CDF has it at 1855 events, with an uncertainty of 486 -or 26.2%; it is shown in green in the CDF plot above. DZERO has it at 2646 events, with an uncertainty of 173, or 6.5%; it is also shown in green in the DZERO plot.  Do not be distracted by the different size of the contribution of W+heavy flavor in the two datasets: different selection strategies drive the numbers to differ, and besides, it is rather the total number of events of the two analyses which is similar by pure chance. The point here is the uncertainty.

Luckily, the DZERO analysis does not appear to rely too much on the background normalization -this is not a simple counting experiment, where the better you know the size of expected backgrounds, the smaller your uncertainty on the signal; rather, the shapes of backgrounds are important, and the graphs above show that the data appears indeed well-described by the discriminant shape. And of course, background shapes are checked in control samples, so both experiments have many tools to ensure that the different contributions are well understood. However, the issue remains: how much do the different estimates of the W plus heavy flavor uncertainty impacts the significance of the measurements ? The DZERO paper mentions that one of their largest uncertainties arises from the modeling of the heavy flavor composition of W+jet events, but it does not provide further details.

I would be happy to receive an informed answer in the comments thread about the points I mention above…

First observation of single top production from CDF!!! March 5, 2009

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, science.
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The paper, submitted to PRL yesterday evening, is here.
I will discuss the details later today…

UPDATE: a reader points out that the above link was broken. Now fixed.

Single top seen with no leptons! January 14, 2009

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This post has a rather long introduction which does not discuss single top production, but rather explains how the techniques for detecting top quark pairs at the Tevatron have evolved since the first searches. Informed readers who are interested mainly in the new CDF result for the single top cross section may skip the first two sections below…

Introduction: missing energy as the main tag top quarks

In the years before the top quark discovery, and for a few years thereafter, top quark pairs produced by the Tevatron proton-antiproton collider were searched by the CDF and D0 experiments with a quite clear, if a bit unimaginative, three-pronged strategy.

A top quark pair candidate event could be extracted from backgrounds if it contained two charged leptons -basically electrons or muons-, missing transverse energy, and two hadronic jets (the dilepton signature, pictured above); or if there were one charged lepton, missing transverse energy, and three or four hadronic jets (the single-lepton signature, shown on the right); or finally, if it just showed six hadronic jets (the all-hadronic signature).

(A note to avoid letting down from square one those of you who feel inadequate for not knowing what a jet, or missing energy, are: Jets are the result of the materialization of high-energy quarks, which are kicked out of the colliding protons or materialized by the released energy, into streams of hadronic particles; they appear in collider detectors as localized deposits of energy. Missing energy results from the escape of undetected particles, typically neutrinos. More on this below…)

The three final states mentioned above were the result of the different decay modes of the two W bosons always present in a top pair decay: if both W bosons decayed to lepton-neutrino pairs one would get a dilepton event; if one decayed to a lepton-neutrino and the other to a pair of hadronic jets the single-lepton final state would arise; and if both decayed to jets one would get the six-jet topology. Life in the top physics group was just that easy.

The dilepton final state is the cleanest of the three channels, and the all-hadronic final state the dirtiest: in proton-antiproton collisions a simple rule of thumb states that the more leptons you are after, the cleaner your signal is, and conversely the more jets you look for, the deeper you have to dig in the mud of strong interactions. That is because strong interactions (or QCD, for Quantum ChromoDynamics) produce lots and lots of jets, and very rarely do they yield leptons; and QCD is the name of the game in proton-antiproton collisions.

It took quite a while to realize that one could imagine other successful ways to extract top-quark pairs from Tevatron data. A sizable step forward on this issue was made by yours truly with the help of a graduate student, I am proud to note. Let me explain this in a few lines.

While the search for leptons (electrons, muons, tauons) is a way to clean the dataset from QCD backgrounds, the explicit identification of these particles results by force in a reduction of the available top signal. The CDF and D0 experiments are well-suited to detect electrons and muons, but only when these particles are produced at a large angle from the proton beam axis -i.e., “centrally”; moreover, the lepton identification efficiency is never 100% even in those cases. As for tauons, they are much harder to detect, because the tauon is a heavy particle, so that despite being a lepton it has the chance to decay into light hadrons, mimicking a hadronic jet.

All in all, if one considers the single-lepton final state of the process t \bar t \to W^+ b W^- \bar b \to l \nu b q \bar q' \bar b, which arises in a total of 44% of the cases, the typical fraction of top pair decays one may hope to collect in a clean dataset is not larger than 10%. The rest is lost when one explicitly requires to have reconstructed a central, clean lepton signal.

Put this way, it does beg the question. What are we going to do with the large fraction of lost top pair decays ? The answer, for eight years after the top discovery, was simple: nothing. There had been, in truth, attempts at loosening the identification requirements on leptons; but the fact that leptons are the means by which those events are collected -they are requested by the online triggering system- called for a more radical solution. So Giorgio Cortiana and I, while looking for a suitable thesis topic for him, decided to drop the lepton request altogether, and to simply look for top pairs in data just containing missing transverse energy and jets.

Missing transverse energy is a powerful signature at hadron colliders by itself, because it may signal the presence of an energetic neutrino escaping the detector. The signature arises from a simple calculation of the energy flowing out of the interaction point in the plane transverse to the beam direction: in that plane, momentum conservation implies that the vector sum of all particles is zero, compatibly with measurement uncertainties: if it very different from zero, either one or more particles have escaped unnoticed, or some of them have been measured imprecisely.

If a significant amount of missing transverse energy effectively tags an energetic neutrino, there is no need to search for an additional charged lepton to confirm that a leptonic W \to l \nu decay has taken place! Energetic neutrinos are either due to a leptonic W decay or a Z boson decay to a pair of neutrinos, Z \to \nu \nu. Now, Z bosons are even more rare than W bosons, so they do not constitute a too worrisome background. By ignoring the charged lepton that might accompany the missing transverse energy, one gains access to all the bounty of single lepton decays of top quark pairs which the tight search discards -because the charged lepton went unseen in a hole of the detector, or failed the identification criteria.

Giorgio and I published two papers using the missing-energy-plus-jets signature: a cross-section measurement for top-pair production (paper here) which, at the time of publication, was the third-best result on that quantity, and a top quark mass measurement (paper here) which, despite carrying a large uncertainty, showed that the sample could be a promising ground for top physics measurements despite the lack of kinematic closure (the fact that one lepton is present but is unidentified means that one cannot completely define the decay kinematics: one then speaks of unconstrained kinematics). Now, I am glad to see that the same signature we used for top quark pairs is being exploited in CDF for a single top quark search.

A few words on single top production

Single tops are produced in proton-antiproton collisions by weak interaction processes, but they are not much less frequent than strongly-produced top pairs,
because a pair of top quarks weighs twice as much as a single top quark does, and this has a huge impact in the cross section. Usually, the single-top production signature amounts to the leptonic top decay products -a charged lepton, missing energy, and a jet- accompanied by another jet or two, produced by the quark(s) originally recoiling against the top quark. If one considers the simplest diagrams giving rise to a single top quark, there are two very different processes: s-channel
W* decay
and t-channle W-gluon fusion. Let me explain what these are.

A regular, “on-shell” W boson -one which has a mass very close to the peak of the W
resonance, M_W=80.4 GeV– does not decay into a top and a bottom quark: that is because the W is lighter than the required final state particles! But a W boson produced “off-mass-shell”, i.e. with a mass much larger than its normal value, can indeed decay that way. One just has to remember that W bosons may have any mass from 0 to whatever value, but the probability that the mass is far from M_W quickly becomes small, following a curve called a Breit-Wigner; one I have recently posted in a discussion about Z bosons, incidentally. You can check the shape there, bearing in mind that the peak for W bosons is 10 GeV smaller, and the width about 20% smaller. Anyway, when a off-mass-shell W boson decays as W \to t \bar b, as shown in the diagram on the right in the figure below, the final state ends up containing two b-quarks, plus the decay products of the second W boson appearing in the process -the one emitted by the top decay. So one has a lepton, missing transverse energy, and two b-jets.

The second way by means of which a single top quark may be produced in proton-antiproton collisions is shown on the left above, and it occurs via the splitting of a gluon from the proton into a bottom-antibottom quark pair: while one of them does not concern us, the other interacts with a W boson emitted from the other projectile, and a top quark is the result. One thus obtains the signature of three jets plus lepton plus missing transverse energy, and two of the jets still have b-quarks in them.

The new CDF result

Single top production has been sought at the Tevatron with enthusiasm in Run II, and CDF and D0 have already shown sizable signals of that process in datasets containing leptons, missing energy, and jets. But finally, a new analysis by the Purdue University group in CDF (Artur Apresyan, Fabrizio Margaroli, and Karolos Potamianos, led by Daniela Bortoletto) is now finding a signal without the help of the charged lepton. I of course cannot but be happy about it, since it is just another demonstration of the potentiality of the “lepton-ignoring” technique!

The new analysis selects events with a significant amount of missing transverse energy (ME_T>50 GeV) accompanied by two or three hadronic jets. Events are not collected as signal candidates if the missing Et has a small azimuthal angle with a jet, because that is a hint that the former may be due to a fluctuation of the energy measurement of the latter. After that selection, a combination of b-quark tagging algorithms is used to select a sample rich with two b-quark jets -the other important background-reducing characteristic of top decays.

Three different classes of b-enriched events are selected. Two classes depend solely on the presence in the jets of one or two “Secvtx” b-tags: these are explicitly reconstructed secondary vertices, signalling the decay in flight of a B-hadron. A third class collects events with one Secvtx b-tag plus a jet tagged by a different algorithm, “JetProb“. JetProb computes the probability that charged tracks contained in a jet originate from the primary vertex, and tags jets which are likely to contain a long-lived particle.

The three classes have a different signal purity, and their separate analysis allows to extract more information from the data sample than a combination of all b-tagged events.

A neural-network classifier is used to discriminate single-top events from the surviving backgrounds, which are predominantly due to a combination of three processes: “W+jets” production, which arises when a W boson is created along with QCD radiation; top pair production, which does produce missing energy and b-tagged jets, but has typically a larger number of jets; and the more generic QCD-multijet background, which may contaminate the sample when missing transverse energy is faked by a weird fluctuation in the energy measurement of one of the hadronic jets, not removed by the azimuthal angle cuts mentioned above. Since the latter is the largest offender, this neural network -through the choice of kinematical variables- is aimed in particular at downsizing QCD events.

Above you can see the NN output for the class of events containing two Secvtx b-tags; points with error bars are the data, and the expected backgrounds are shown by color-coded histograms. The QCD background (in green) populates the negative region, as expected.

After the selection of high-NN-output events (NN>-0.1), about a thousand events survive in the “one Secvtx” class, and about a hundred in the “two Secvtx” and “one Secvtx-one JetProb” class. The first class is dominated by QCD backgrounds, while the second and the third have top pairs as the main contribution. These backgrounds are precisely estimated using a tagging-matrix approach: a parametrization of the probability of finding b-tags in jets as a function of the jet characteristics. Control samples of data are used to verify that the background expectations are accurate.

The analysis does not end there, though: the single top signal is small, and the samples have to be purified further. The authors use another neural network, trained with variables sensitive to the signal kinematics, and extract the signal size from the NN output distributions in the three different classes.

Below you can see the second-NN output for the first class of events. As you can see, the s-channel and t-channel single-top production processes are small, but the fit prefers to include them in the mixture.

The graph below displays the results class by class, and the combination.

The analysis finds a very nice result: the single top cross section is measured at \sigma_t = 4.9^{+2.5 }_{-2.2} pb, in good agreement with standard model expectations. The measured significance of the signal is quoted at 2.1-\sigma, while the expected sensitivity of the search is given by the paper at 1.4-\sigma: this is a very important number to quote, as it allows one to size up with precision the relative importance of this determination, decoupling from statistical fluctuation effects that may influence the particular value found by the analysis.

Given the fact that it is based on a data sample orthogonal to others, once combined with the other determinations the new measurement described above will give a sizable contribution to the significance of the CDF signals of single top production: the authors must be heartily congratulated for their  result!

And the goodies are not over: the measurement of the cross section for single top production can be directly translated in a determination of the $V_{tb}$ matrix element of the Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa matrix. The plot below shows the result obtained by this search. Of course we are still far from a meaningful determination, and this also reflects in the unphysical value obtained, which is however in good agreement with the expectation, close to 1.0 in the standard model.

I have not seen it there yet, but a public web page describing these results and linking to a public note on the analysis will soon appear in the public web page of single top searches in CDF.

UPDATE: The public web page of the analysis is here, and a .pdf file with the public note describing the result is at this link. Enjoy!

An exam in Subnuclear Physics January 9, 2009

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Here are the questions asked at an exam in Subnuclear Physics this morning:

  • Draw the strong and electromagnetic coupling constants as a function of Q^2, explain their functional dependence using feynman graphs of the corrections to the photon and gluon propagators, write their formula, and compute the value of the constants at Q^2=M_Z^2, given the values at Q^2=1 MeV^2 (QED) and Q^2=1 GeV^2 (QCD).
  • The GIM mechanism: explain the need for a fourth quark using box diagrams of kaon decays to muon pairs. How does the charm contribution depend on its mass ? What conclusion could be drawn by that dependence in the case of B mixing measurements in the eighties ?
  • Discuss a measurement of the top quark mass. For a dileptonic decay of top quark pairs, discuss the final state and its production rate.
  • Discuss decay modes of W bosons and their branching fraction values. Discuss decay modes of Z bosons and their branching fraction values.

The student answered well all questions and he got 30/30 points.

Some posts you might have missed in 2008 – part II January 6, 2009

Posted by dorigo in physics, science.
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Here is the second part of the list of useful physics posts I published on this site in 2008. As noted yesterday when I published the list for the first six months of 2008, this list does not include guest posts nor conference reports, which may be valuable but belong to a different place (and are linked from permanent pages above). In reverse chronological order:

December 29: a report on the first measurement of exclusive production of charmonium states in hadron-hadron collisions, by CDF.

December 19: a detailed description of the effects of parton distribution functions on the production of Z bosons at the LHC, and how these effects determine the observed mass of the produced Z bosons. On the same topic, there is a maybe simpler post from November 25th.

December 8: description of a new technique to measure the top quark mass in dileptonic decays by CDF.

November 28: a report on the measurement of extremely rare decays of B hadrons, and their implications.

November 19, November 20, November 20 again , November 21, and November 21 again: a five-post saga on the disagreement between Lubos Motl and yours truly on a detail on the multi-muon analysis by CDF, which becomes a endless diatriba since Lubos won’t listen to my attempts at making his brain work, and insists on his mistake. This leads to a back-and-forth between our blogs and a surprising happy ending when Motl finally apologizes for his mistake. Stuff for expert lubologists, but I could not help adding the above links to this summary. Beware, most of the fun is in the comments threads!

November 8, November 8 again, and November 12: a three-part discussion of the details in the surprising new measurement of anomalous multi-muon production published by CDF (whose summary is here). Warning: I intend to continue this series as I find the time, to complete the detailed description of this potentially groundbreaking study.

October 24: the analysis by which D0 extracts evidence for diboson production using the dilepton plus dijet final state, a difficult, background-ridden signature. The same search, performed by CDF, is reported in detail in a post published on October 13.

September 23: a description of an automated global search for new physics in CDF data, and its intriguing results.

September 19: the discovery of the \Omega_b baryon, an important find by the D0 experiment.

August 27: a report on the D0 measurement of the polarization of Upsilon mesons -states made up by a b \bar b pair- and its relevance for our understanding of QCD.

August 21: a detailed discussion of the ingredients necessary to measure with the utmost precision the mass of the W boson at the Tevatron.

August 8: the new CDF measurement of the lifetime of the \Lambda_b baryon, which had previously been in disagreement with theory.

August 7: a discussion of the new cross-section limits on Higgs boson production, and the first exclusion of the 170 GeV mass, by the two Tevatron experiments.

July 18: a search for narrow resonances decaying to muon pairs in CDF data excludes the tentative signal seen by CDF in Run I.

July 10: An important measurement by CDF on the correlated production of pairs of b-quark jets. This measurement is a cornerstone of the observation of anomalous multi-muon events that CDF published at the end of October 2008 (see above).

July 8: a report of a new technique to measure the top quark mass which is very important for the LHC, and the results obtained on CDF data. For a similar technique of relevance to LHC, also check this other CDF measurement.