The CERN LHC has produced proton-proton collisions at an unprecedented center of mass energy of 13 TeV since 2015, providing an excellent opportunity to search for new phenomena in regions that were previously inaccessible to collider experiments. While the standard model (SM) of particle physics is well established as the theory that describes the fundamental particles and their interactions, it cannot explain certain phenomena such as dark matter, neutrino oscillations, and the matter-antimatter asymmetry in the universe. Several theories of physics beyond the standard model (BSM) have been developed to address the inadequacies of the SM, and a wide range of parameter and phase space regions of such theoretical models are accessible for direct search for the first time at the LHC. A large number of searches for a range of BSM signatures have been conducted by the LHC experiments.
Dedicated searches targeting specific BSM theories are often restricted in their scope to a few final states that are sensitive to the particular models probed. Practical constraints on the number of such analyses mean that there are models and experimental final states that remain unexplored, where BSM signatures could possibly be hidden. Furthermore, new phenomena may exist that are not described by any of the existing models. Hence, complementary to the existing searches for specific BSM scenarios, a generalized model-independent approach is employed in CMS, that is a Model Unspecific Search in CMS: MUSiC.
MUSiC starts by counting which (known) high energy particles are produced in one collision event, for example, muons or high energy photons, or bundles of hadrons, which are called jets. Fig. 1 shows a CMS event display resulting from a single proton-proton collision. In this collision, two muons can be observed, shown as long red lines originating in the centre, at the proton-proton collision point. The muons traverse several muon detectors, the outer red boxes in the image. The green and blue symbols indicate low energy particles, which are not considered. This approach is appropriate in high energy collisions, where likely signatures originate from decays of new undiscovered particles, and those are mostly predicted to be massive. The collision shown in Figure 1 is called a 'two muon' event as it contains two muons. Similarly, it is possible to define hundreds of classes, like 'two electrons plus one photon' or 'one muon plus three jets'. The number of possible combinations is huge, any number of muons, electrons, photons, or jets, can be considered, and this is why the MUSiC method is very complementary to the searches for specific new particles that are also part of the CMS programme.
The first step in the analysis is to compare the number of events in each class to the Standard Model prediction. This comparison is shown in graphical form in Figure 2, for some of the particle combinations, in this case, those with at least two electrons plus other particles. The colours indicate the different Standard Model contributions, for example in yellow, top pair production, with subsequent decay, yielding two electrons. The agreement between measurement and theory is excellent within the uncertainties! This procedure is repeated by adding other objects, for example, jets that can also come from b quarks. In each of the selections, the event yield is predicted by the Standard Model and compared to the data. As the predictions agree within the uncertainties, there is no hint for new physics.
Figure 1: The number of expected and observed events in collisions with two electrons with- or without- additional jets, including the possibility that the jets come from b quarks. The multi-coloured distribution contains all Standard Model production mechanisms that can create two muons. The data (black points) agree with the Standard Model prediction, including its uncertainties.
But counting events with leptons and jets is only looking at the surface; it is possible to also look at all these event classes in detail, by studying important kinematical distributions. To do so, the energy and flight direction for each of the identified objects are measured. An example of one of the kinematical variables is the total invariant mass, calculated from all the particles in one event. This invariant mass variable is a measure of how energetic the collision was. Figure 3 shows the mass distribution for one event class, 'two muons'. The event in Figure 1 is part of this sample. When investigating the invariant mass distribution, the overall agreement between theory (histogram) and data (points) is excellent. To confirm, a search algorithm automatically looks for inconsistencies in these distributions with the most significant deviation between CMS data and theoretical prediction. This 'region of interest' is marked by two vertical dashed red lines. Note that adding new physics to the Standard Model can make the predicted number of events go either up or down. In this case, the Standard Model predicts slightly more events there than the data shows, as can best be seen in the ratio between data and Standard Model Monte Carlo prediction at the bottom of Figure 2. Further statistical analysis also reveals that this most substantial difference is still not statistically significant.
Figure 2 The two-muon invariant mass distribution created observed in the 2016 CMS dataset. The multi-coloured distribution contains all Standard Model production mechanisms that can create two muons. The data (black points) agrees with the Standard Model prediction. The bottom part of the plot shows the data divided by the Standard Model prediction. In the area between the red lines, the data is slightly smaller than the prediction by the Standard Model, but not in a significant way.
In this manner, the CMS collaboration has investigated numerous distributions from the 2016 dataset with the MUSiC method. In some cases, the difference between theory and experiment is a bit bigger than in Figure 2. Still, altogether the MUSiC analysis found no substantial deviations, and so far CMS physicists do not see a clear signal of new physics.
This new result uses only the data collected in 2016; there is a lot more data available from the LHC Run 2 that ran up to 2018. In the next years, the LHC will produce many more proton-proton collisions, and the MUSiC algorithm is ready to find whatever nature will provide.