(March 14, 1998)
"I've found the Anomalon"
by Letizia Gabaglio
After 14 years of almost solitary research Piyare Jain, physician at the University of Buffalo, has eventually spotted the anomalon. A particle interacting with matter in a way which is much more violent, and the life of which is much shorter than theory shows. A particle which could be the first of a new family of "extravagant" particles. In this article Jain talks to Galileo about the history of his discovery
After 14 years of searching, Piyare Jain found a new particle. In the particle accellerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory in the USA and at CERN in Geneva, the anomalon has finally been observed. This new particle takes its name from its quirky behavior: the "violence" with which it interacts with matter, in fact, is ten times greater than that predicted by the law of strong interaction which governs the behavior of normal particles. It's so strange that very few physicists were willing to recognize its existence, and for a long time Jain, from the University of Buffalo, worked practically alone. Towards the mid '80s some groups claimed to have found the anomolon, but they couldn't definitively confirm the result because their accellerators weren't powerful enough. Thanks to the two rings at Brookhaven and Geneva, Piyare Jain managed to hit it big, perhaps even the jackpot.
The events which produce anomalons are quite rare and quite interesting. According to Jain, in fact, it is precisely these interactions which may reveal the presence of particles yet-unknown. "Anomalons may be involved in some way in some of the unsolved mysteries," claims Jain, "such as the quark-gluon plasma, black holes, the identification of the multi-lamda hypernucleus or the H-particle." In order to prove their existence, however, and put an end to the long and controversial debate which raged throughout the '80s, a particle superaccellerator was needed.
This led Jain to run his experiments at Brookhaven National Laboratory and at CERN in Geneva, where he was able to use the most powerful instruments currently available. However, more was needed to eventually see the the mysterious anomalon: besides the powerful accellerator, the correct detector was needed. Jain, working with just one researcher, dusted off a relatively simple and cheap method: photographic film with a highly sensitive emulsion, spread on a mirror. "Emulsion technique is well known and was available even before electronic particle detectors," he says. "Physicists stopped using it because it requires a lot of work and skill. These emulsion detectors grant excellent results, but they are time and labor consuming: if you aren't skilled enough, you can make major mistakes." The emulsion plays a double role of lens and detector, and allows the speed, distance, travel time and direction of a particle produced in a collision to be detected.
This seems to have been the key point. In fact, earlier experiments hadn't been able to identify the anomalon because, according to Jain, the detectors weren't right. The decay time for these particles is extremely brief and the lens must therefore be thinner than the distance in which the particles decay. Modern electronic detectors are far too thick. "The chance to identify particles with such a short life is particularly exciting," concludes Jain, "since it offers scientists the first tangible proof that other anomolous particles with very brief lives, such as the H-particle, can be identified." This will be the object of Jain's upcoming research. Any discovery would turn out to be fundamental, since the H-particle, predicted by quantum chromodynamic theory, is composed of six quarks instead of the two or three quarks which make up the rest of matter.
Translation by Jonathan Chaloff