Top quark weighs in with unparalleled precision

1 July 2022
A top-quark pair at the LHC

The CMS collaboration has substantially improved on its measurement of the top-quark mass. The latest result, 171.77 ± 0.38 GeV, presented at CERN on 5 April, represents a precision of about 0.22% – compared to the 0.36% obtained in 2018 with the same data. The gain comes from new analysis methods and improved procedures to consistently treat uncertainties in the measurement simultaneously.

As the heaviest elementary particle, precise knowledge of the top-quark mass is of paramount importance to test the internal consistency of the Standard Model. Together with accurate knowledge of the masses of the W and Higgs bosons, the top-quark mass is no longer a free parameter but a clear prediction of the Standard Model. Since the top-quark mass dominates higher-order corrections to the Higgs-boson mass, a precise measurement of the top mass also places strong constraints on the stability of the electroweak vacuum (see The Higgs and the fate of the universe). 

Since its discovery at Fermilab in 1995, the mass of the top quark has been measured with increasing precision using the invariant mass of different combinations of its decay products. Measurements by the Tevatron experiments resulted in a combined value of 174.30 ± 0.65 GeV, while the ATLAS and CMS collaborations measured 172.69 ± 0.48 GeV and 172.44 ± 0.48 GeV, respectively, from the combination of their most precise results from LHC Run 1 recorded at a centre-of-mass energy of 8 TeV. The latter measurement achieved a relative precision of about 0.28%. In 2019, the CMS collaboration also experimentally investigated the running of the top quark mass – a prediction of QCD that causes the mass to vary as a function of energy – for the first time at the LHC. 

The LHC produces top quarks predominantly in quark–antiquark pairs via gluon fusion, which then decay almost exclusively to a bottom quark and a W boson. Each tt event is classified by the subsequent decay of the W bosons. The latest CMS analysis uses semileptonic events – where one W decays into jets and the other into a lepton and a neutrino – selected from 36 fb–1 of Run 2 data collected at a centre-of-mass energy of 13 TeV. Five kinematical variables, as opposed to up to three in previous analy­ses, were used to extract the top-quark mass. While the extra information in the fit improved the precision of the measurement in a novel and unconventional way, it made the analysis significantly more complicated. In addition, the measurement required an extremely precise calibration of the CMS data and an in-depth understanding of the remaining experimental and theoretical uncertainties and their interdependencies. 

The final result, 171.77 ± 0.38 GeV, which includes 0.04 GeV statistical uncertainty, is a considerable improvement compared to all previously published top-quark mass measurements and supersedes the previously published measurement in this channel using the same data set. 

“The cutting-edge statistical treatment of uncertainties and the use of more information have vastly improved this new measurement from CMS,” says Hartmut Stadie of the University of Hamburg, who contributed to the result. “Another big step is expected when the new approach is applied to the more extensive dataset recorded in 2017 and 2018.”

Further reading

CMS Collab. 2022 CMS-PAS-TOP-20-008.

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