Beyond bumps

10 November 2021

The inaugural CERN Flavour Anomalies Workshop took place on 20 October as part of this year’s Implications of LHCb Measurements and Future Prospects meeting. More than 500 experimentalists and theorists met in a hybrid format via Zoom and in person. Discussion centered on the longstanding tensions in B-physics measurements, and new project ideas. The workshop was dedicated to the memory of long-time LHCb collaborator Sheldon Stone (Syracuse), who made a plentiful contribution to CERN’s flavour programme.

The central topic of the workshop was the b anomalies: a persistent set of tensions between predictions and measurements in a number of semileptonic b-decays which are not as clear as unexpected peaks in invariant mass distributions. Instead, they manifest themselves as modifications to the branching fractions and angular distributions of certain flavour-changing neutral-current (FCNC) b-decays which have become more significant over the past decade. The latest LHCb measurement of the ratio (RK) of B+ decays to a kaon and a muon or electron pair differs from the Standard Model (SM) by more than 3σ, and the ratio (RK*) of B0 decays to an excited kaon and a muon or electron pair differs by more than 2σ. LHCb has also seen several departures from theory in measurements of angular distributions at the level of roughly 3σ significance. Finally, and coherent with these FCNC effects, BaBar, Belle and LHCb analyses of charged-current b→cτν̄  decays support lepton-flavour-universality (LFU) violation at a combined significance of roughly 3σ. Though no single measurement is statistically significant, the collective pattern is intriguing. 

Four of the major fitting groups showed a stunning agreement in fits to effective-field-theory parameters

But how robust are the SM predictions for these observables? Efforts include both theory-only and data-driven approaches for distinguishing genuine signs of beyond-the-SM (BSM) effects from hard-to-understand hadronic effects. A further aim is to understand what type of BSM models could produce the observed effects. Of particular interest was the question of how to incorporate information from high-pT searches at the LHC experiments. ATLAS and CMS are ramping up their efforts, and their ongoing B-physics programmes will hopefully soon confirm and complement LHCb’s results. Both experiments reported on work to address the main bottlenecks: the reconstruction of low-momentum leptons, and trigger challenges foreseen as a result of increased luminosities in Run 3. The complementarity of B-physics and direct searches was clear from results such as ATLAS and CMS searches for leptoquarks compatible with the flavour anomalies.

Theory consensus

The workshop saw, for the first time, a joint theory presentation by four of the major b→sℓ+ fitting groups. They showed a stunning agreement in fits to effective-field-theory parameters which register as nonzero in the presence of BSM physics (see figure). The fits use observables that either probe LFU or help to constrain troublesome hadronic uncertainties. The observables include the now famous RK, RK* and RpK (which studies Λb0 baryon decays to a proton, a charged kaon and a pair of muons or electrons), whose measurements are dominated by LHCb results; and results on the branching fraction for Bs→μ+μ from ATLAS, CMS and LHCb. Though the level of agreement diminishes when other observables and measurements are included, dominantly due to the different theoretical assumptions made by the four groups, all agree that substantial tensions with the SM are unavoidable.

New results from LHCb included first measurements of the LFU-sensitive ratios RK*+ (which concerns B+→K*++ decays) and RKs (which concerns B0→KS0+ decays), and new measurements of branching fractions and angular observables for the decay Bs→ϕμ+μ, which is at present hampered by significant theory uncertainties. By contrast, many theoretical predictions for b→cτν̄ processes are now more precise than measurements, with the promise of further improvements thanks to dedicated lattice-QCD studies. Larger and more diverse datasets will be needed to reduce the experimental uncertainties.

As the end of the year approaches, it may not be too early to collect wishes for 2022. The most prevalent wishes involve new analysis results from ATLAS, CMS and LHCb on these burning topics, and a 2022 workshop to happen in person!


  • Strong interactions | Conference HADRON 2023 5—9 June 2023 | Genova, Italy
  • Accelerators | Conference FCC Week 2023 5—9 June 2023 | London, UK
  • Flavour physics | Conference BEAUTY 2023 3—7 July 2023 | Clermont-Ferrand, France
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