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JMU physicist, students had role in groundbreaking discovery at Fermilab

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JMU physicist Kevin Giovanetti and students he has mentored were among the contributors to the experiment that led to Wednesday’s announcement of a groundbreaking particle physics discovery at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Fermilab, the premiere particle physics and accelerator laboratory in the U.S., announced that the Muon g-2 experiment has revealed that fundamental particles called muons behave in a way that is not predicted by scientists’ best theory, the Standard Model of particle physics. One potential explanation for the unexpected behavior would be the existence of undiscovered particles or forces.

Giovanetti and his students contributed in a joint effort with the University of Virginia to design, prototype and build a power management system that was used as part of the experiment’s detector system. Twenty-four detector packages were deployed to detect the muons as they decayed.

“I usually describe these types of experiments as a search for a ‘Holy Grail,’ evidence that there is something new that requires rethinking and innovation,” Giovanetti said. “Clear evidence that there is a discrepancy between theory and experiment is a highly regarded result.”

The Fermilab experiment confirms findings from an identical study done in the 1990s at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, but with greater precision.

Giovanetti said working on projects at national laboratories benefits him and his students.

“The role of integrative classroom teaching and student research has always been a hallmark of the physics department’s educational efforts and for me this has been a long-standing effort,” he said. “My status as a researcher over many years has clearly influenced my teaching and remains a critical ingredient.”

Giovanetti also conducts research at The Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, which has led to support from the lab and the National Science Foundation for research he conducts with his students and his JMU collaborators, Ioana Niculescu and Gabriel Niculescu. “Our efforts have been sufficient to establish JMU as a model for undergraduate research,” he said.

Giovanetti said working on the Muon g-2 project was rewarding and that the results will inspire the particle physics community to examine the state of the theory. Meanwhile, the g-2 collaboration that Giovanetti remains a part of will stay focused on adding more data and carefully analyzing all aspects of the experiment to ensure the validity of the results.

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