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Measurement of parity violation in electron–quark scattering

Abstract

Symmetry permeates nature and is fundamental to all laws of physics. One example is parity (mirror) symmetry, which implies that flipping left and right does not change the laws of physics. Laws for electromagnetism, gravity and the subatomic strong force respect parity symmetry, but the subatomic weak force does not1,2. Historically, parity violation in electron scattering has been important in establishing (and now testing) the standard model of particle physics. One particular set of quantities accessible through measurements of parity-violating electron scattering are the effective weak couplings C2q, sensitive to the quarks’ chirality preference when participating in the weak force, which have been measured directly3,4 only once in the past 40 years. Here we report a measurement of the parity-violating asymmetry in electron–quark scattering, which yields a determination of 2C2u − C2d (where u and d denote up and down quarks, respectively) with a precision increased by a factor of five relative to the earlier result. These results provide evidence with greater than 95 per cent confidence that the C2q couplings are non-zero, as predicted by the electroweak theory. They lead to constraints on new parity-violating interactions beyond the standard model, particularly those due to quark chirality. Whereas contemporary particle physics research is focused on high-energy colliders such as the Large Hadron Collider, our results provide specific chirality information on electroweak theory that is difficult to obtain at high energies. Our measurement is relatively free of ambiguity in its interpretation, and opens the door to even more precise measurements in the future.

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Figure 1: Comparison of the present results with those of earlier experiments and predictions of the standard model.
Figure 2: Mass exclusion limits Λ on the electron and quark compositeness and contact interactions.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the personnel of Jefferson Lab for their efforts which resulted in the successful completion of the experiment, and A. Accardi, P. Blunden, W. Melnitchouk and their collaborators for carrying out the calculations necessary for the completion of the data analysis. X.Z. thanks the Medium Energy Physics Group at the Argonne National Laboratory for support during the initial work on this experiment. J.E. was supported by PAPIIT (DGAPAUNAM) project IN106913 and CONACyT (México) project 151234, and acknowledges the hospitality and support by the Mainz Institute for Theoretical Physics (MITP) where part of his work was completed. This work was supported in part by the Jeffress Memorial Trust (award no. J-836), the US NSF (award no. 0653347), and the US DOE (award nos DE-SC0003885 and DE-AC02-06CH11357). This work was authored by Jefferson Science Associates, LLC under US DOE contract no. DE-AC05-06OR23177. The US Government retains a non-exclusive, paid-up, irrevocable, world-wide license to publish or reproduce this manuscript for US Government purposes.

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Authors contributed to one or more of the following areas: proposing, leading, and running the experiment; design, construction, optimization, and testing of the data acquisition system; data analysis; simulation; extraction of the physics results from measured asymmetries; and the writing of this Letter.

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Correspondence to X. Zheng.

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The author declare no competing financial interests.

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J.E. is currently on sabbatical leave at the PRISMA Cluster of Excellence and MITP, Johannes Gutenberg University.

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This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References and Supplementary Tables 1-2. (PDF 244 kb)

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The Jefferson Lab PVDIS Collaboration. Measurement of parity violation in electron–quark scattering. Nature 506, 67–70 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12964

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