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Precision measurements of neutron beta decay and the neutron lifetime puzzle

Friday November 5, 2021
3:30 pm

 Presenter:  Steven Clayton, Los Alamos National Lab
 Series:  Physics and Astronomy Colloquium
 Abstract:  Precision measurements of neutron beta decay and the neutron lifetime puzzle

When not bound up in an atomic nucleus, the neutron decays into a proton, electron and anti-neutrino in on average about 15 minutes. Detailed measurements of this process -- the overall rate, correlations between neutron spin and final-state particle momenta, etc. -- can be used to determine parameters of the underlying standard model of particle physics. The problem is over constrained: there are many possible experimental observables dependent on just a few standard model parameters. The parameters thus determined can be compared with results of other experiments to test the fundamental theory, possibly revealing new physics as experimental precision improves. An experiment at Los Alamos National Laboratory, using ultracold neutrons produced at the LANSCE accelerator, recently published the world's most precise single measurement of the neutron lifetime, with overall uncertainty half that of the previous best measurements. This precision begins to probe an apparent discrepancy in the fundamental theory that has arisen in a class of nuclear beta decay measurements. There is a complication though, a discrepancy in different measurements of ostensibly the same observable. While neutron lifetime measurements based on storage of neutrons in a trap ("bottle"), including LANL's new result, are in reasonably good agreement with each other, previous experiments using the quite different technique of counting the protons produced in a known flux ("beam") of neutrons infer a significantly longer neutron lifetime. Either one or both classes of experiments has an undiscovered systematic error, or somehow less than 100% of neutron decays leave protons in the final state, inconsistent with the standard theory. In this talk, I will explain the motivation to measure neutron beta decay precisely, discuss the experimental landscape of neutron lifetime experiments in particular, and comment a bit on the "beam vs. bottle" neutron lifetime puzzle.
 Web Site:    https:/ / youtu.be/ PyzXP1oOCxg
 Host:  Kevin Cahill
 Location:  Via Zoom. Please take the Satisfaction Survey

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