Probing new physics with the Higgs boson

1 July 2022

A report from the ATLAS experiment.

ATLAS figure 1

Due to its connection to the process of electroweak symmetry breaking, the Higgs boson plays a special role in the Standard Model (SM). Its properties, such as its mass and its couplings to fermions and bosons, have been measured with increasing precision. For these reasons, the Higgs boson has become an ideal tool to conduct new-physics searches. Prominent examples are direct searches for new heavy particles decaying into Higgs bosons or searches for exotic decays of the Higgs boson. Such phenomena have been predicted in many extensions of the SM motivated by long-standing open questions, including the hierarchy problem, dark matter and electroweak baryogenesis. Examples of new particles that couple to the Higgs boson are heavy vector bosons (as in models with Higgs compositeness or warped extra dimensions) and additional scalar particles (as in supersymmetric models or axion models).

Searches for resonances

The ATLAS collaboration recently released results of a search for a new heavy particle decaying into a Higgs and a W boson. The search was performed by probing for a localised excess in the invariant mass distribution of the ℓνbb final state. As no such excess was found, upper limits at 95% confidence level were set on the production-cross section times branching ratio of the new heavy resonance (figure 1). The results were also interpreted in the context of the heavy vector triplet (HVT) model, which extends the SM gauge group by an additional SU(2) group, to constrain the coupling strengths of heavy vector bosons to SM particles. In two HVT benchmark models, W masses below 2.95 and 3.15 TeV are excluded.

ATLAS figure 2

Rare or exotic decays are excellent candidates to search for weakly coupled new physics. The Higgs boson is particularly sensitive to such new physics owing to its narrow total width, which is three orders of magnitude smaller than that of the W and Z bosons and the top quark. Several searches for exotic decays of the Higgs boson have been carried out by ATLAS, and they may be broadly classified as those scenarios where the possible new daughter particle decays promptly to SM particles, and those where it would be long-lived or stable.

A recent search from ATLAS targeted exotic decays of the Higgs boson into a final state into four electrons or muons, which benefit from a very clean experimental signature. Although a signal was not observed, the search put stringent constraints on decays to new light scalar bosons – particularly in the low mass range of a few GeV – and to new vector bosons, dubbed dark Z bosons or dark photons, in the mass range up to a few tens of GeV. Depen­ding on the new-physics model, this search can exclude branching ratios of the Higgs boson to new particles as low as O(10–5).


Another interesting possibility is the case where the Higgs boson decays to particles that are invisible in the detector, such as dark-matter candidates. To select such events, different strategies are pursued depending on the particles produced in association with the Higgs boson. The most powerful channel for such a search is the vector-boson fusion production process, where two energetic jets from quarks are produced with large angular separation along­side the invisibly decaying Higgs boson (figure 2). Another sensitive channel is the associated production of a Higgs boson with a Z boson that decays to a pair of leptons. Improvements in background predictions have made it possible to reach a sensitivity down to 10% on the branching ratio of invisible Higgs-boson decays, while the corresponding observed limit amounts to 15%.

These searches will greatly benefit from the large datasets expected in Run 3 and later High-Luminosity LHC runs, and will enable searches for even more feeble couplings of new particles to the Higgs boson.

Further reading

ATLAS Collab. 2021 ATLAS-CONF-2021-026.

D Pappadopulo et al. 2014 JHEP 2014 60.

ATLAS Collab. 2021 arXiv:2110.13673.

ATLAS Collab. 2022 arXiv:2202.07953.

ATLAS Collab. 2022 Phys. Lett. B 829 137066.

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