Measurement of the fine-structure constant as a test of the Standard Model

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Science  13 Apr 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6385, pp. 191-195
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap7706

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Refining the fine-structure constant

The fine-structure constant, α, is a dimensionless constant that characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic interaction between charged elementary particles. Related by four fundamental constants, a precise determination of α allows for a test of the Standard Model of particle physics. Parker et al. used matter-wave interferometry with a cloud of cesium atoms to make the most accurate measurement of α to date. Determining the value of α to an accuracy of better than 1 part per billion provides an independent method for testing the accuracy of quantum electrodynamics and the Standard Model. It may also enable searches of the so-called “dark sector” for explanations of dark matter.

Science, this issue p. 191


Measurements of the fine-structure constant α require methods from across subfields and are thus powerful tests of the consistency of theory and experiment in physics. Using the recoil frequency of cesium-133 atoms in a matter-wave interferometer, we recorded the most accurate measurement of the fine-structure constant to date: α = 1/137.035999046(27) at 2.0 × 10−10 accuracy. Using multiphoton interactions (Bragg diffraction and Bloch oscillations), we demonstrate the largest phase (12 million radians) of any Ramsey-Bordé interferometer and control systematic effects at a level of 0.12 part per billion. Comparison with Penning trap measurements of the electron gyromagnetic anomaly ge − 2 via the Standard Model of particle physics is now limited by the uncertainty in ge − 2; a 2.5σ tension rejects dark photons as the reason for the unexplained part of the muon’s magnetic moment at a 99% confidence level. Implications for dark-sector candidates and electron substructure may be a sign of physics beyond the Standard Model that warrants further investigation.

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