The graphic chosen years ago as the header for this blog is an event display from the UA1 detector in 1982, of historical importance since it was the first event found with a W candidate. To be honest, the reason it’s there is that I was looking for something quick to use at the interactions.org Imagebank, figuring these were graphics I could steal without getting sued. What I ended up with is a cropped, lower-resolution version of the much better image available here.
Even stripped of identifying info, UA1 experimentalist Jim Rohlf of course recognized it, and recently wrote me to tell me some more about it. He also tells me that he will soon be blogging at Quantum Diaries, and I look forward to seeing that. So, here’s the story behind that image:
The collision is Run 2958, Event 1279 and was the very first W candidate that was found. It was recorded in the Fall of 1982 with UA1. As a newly minted junior faculty member and CERN scientific associate, I was resident at CERN and the first round of the W event selection and analysis was completed during the CERN holiday shutdown. On 23 January 1983 we submitted the W discovery paper for publication (Phys. Lett. 122 B, 103 (1983)). The details of the events were given in this paper. Within a few days, I got a letter from Lev Okun who had become a good friend of mine due to his frequent visits to CERN and his great interest in the working details of our experiment. In this letter which was several pages long he referred to this event as a “monster” because it decayed in the “wrong direction” and asked if we could have made a measurement error. Then the obvious hit me instantly- nobody had thought of this before- we don’t measure the longitudinal momentum of the neutrino due to the singularity in the direction of beam pipe but we can solve it to a quadratic ambiguity knowing the W mass. Furthermore, I saw that the kinematics of a 80 GeV object being produced with a relatively low cm energy of 540 GeV gave a remarkable result: often one of the 2 solutions was kinematically forbidden and when it wasn’t, the two solutions were often close together. Therefore, we could solve for the longitudinal momentum of the neutrino and be able to transform to the rest frame of the W. Since the W was polarized because it was produced in proton-antiproton collisions, we could measure the angle of the decay wrt the spin direction. Very simple idea, but be the first to do it and it becomes interesting and fun. I immediately wrote this up as a UA1 internal note in which I acknowledged the contribution of Okun. This technique subsequently became a standard at the Tevatron and now at the LHC.
In the following months, we collected more data and the next international conference to come along was at Fermilab and I was told by Rubbia to give the talk which was published (J. Rohlf, “Physics at the Proton-Antiproton Collider,” Proceedings of the 12th International Conference on High Energy Accelerators, Fermilab, 619 (1983). I reported the first measurement direct observation of parity violation in (real) W decay and measurement of the spin. I attach a slide from a talk I gave at Fermilab 20 years later in 2003 where I pulled up some of my 1983 slides. (Notice I fit the W mass to 2% and got the right answer.) You can see the “monster” event in the bin at cos(theta) =-1. This W decayed in the wrong direction. We went on to collect about 300 W events in UA1. We never saw another one go in the wrong direction. We also could not find anything wrong with that original event 1279. So you see the event was “not even wrong”.
Update: A copy of the talk slide that Jim Rohlf refers to is here.
Update: Jim Rohlf’s blog at Quantum Diaries is now up here. His first blog entry is great, it’s about, independent of the Higgs issue, the fundamental problem the LHC hopes to investigate: what is causing electroweak symmetry breaking? He emphasizes that one way to study this is to try and see the self-interactions of Ws and Zs, which become strong at the TeV scale.