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Zooming in on top quarks

15 December 2019

A report from the ATLAS experiment

Fig. 1.

As the heaviest known particle, the top quark plays a unique role in the Standard Model (SM), making its presence felt in corrections to the masses of the W and Higgs bosons, and also, perhaps, in as-yet unseen physics beyond the SM. During Run 2 of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), high-luminosity proton beams were collided at a centre-of-mass energy of 13 TeV. This allowed ATLAS to record and study an unprecedented number of collisions producing top–antitop pairs, providing ATLAS physicists with a unique opportunity to gain insights into the top quark’s properties.

ATLAS has measured the top–antitop production cross-section using events where one top quark decays to an electron, a neutrino and a bottom quark, and the other to a muon, a neutrino and a bottom quark. The striking eμ signature gives a clean and almost background-free sample, leading to a result with an uncertainty of only 2.4%, which is the most precise top-quark pair-production measurement to date. The measurement provides information on the top quark’s mass, and can be used to improve our knowledge of the parton distribution functions describing the internal structure of the proton. The kinematic distributions of the leptons produced in top-quark decays have also been precisely measured, providing a benchmark to test programs that model top-quark production and decay at the LHC (figure 1).

Fig. 2.

The mass of the top quark is a fundamental parameter of the SM, which impacts precision calculations of certain quantum corrections. It can be measured kinematically through the reconstruction of the top quark’s decay products. The top quark decays via the weak interaction as a free particle, but the resulting bottom quark interacts with other particles produced in the collision and eventually emerges as a collimated “b-jet” of hadrons. Modelling this process and calibrating the jet measurement in the detector limits the precision in many top-quark mass measurements, however, 20% of the b-jets contain a muon that carries information relating to the parent bottom quark. By combining this muon with an isolated lepton from a W-boson originating from the same top-quark decay, ATLAS has made a new measurement of the top quark mass with a much-reduced dependence on jet modelling and calibration. The result is ATLAS’s most precise individual top-quark mass measurement to date: 174.48 ± 0.78 GeV.

Higher order QCD diagrams translate this imbalance into the charge asymmetry

At the LHC, top and antitop quarks are not produced fully symmetrically with respect to the proton-beam direction, with top antiquarks produced slightly more often at large angles to the beam, and top quarks, which receive more momentum from the colliding proton, emerging closer to the axis. Higher order QCD diagrams translate this imbalance into the so-called charge asymmetry, which the SM predicts to be small (~0.6%), but which could be enhanced, or even suppressed, by new physics processes interfering with the known production modes. Using its full Run-2 data sample, ATLAS finds evidence of charge asymmetry in top-quark pair events with a significance of four standard deviations, confidently showing that the asymmetry is indeed non-zero. The measured charge asymmetry of 0.0060 ± 0.0015 is compatible with the latest SM predictions. ATLAS also measured the charge asymmetry versus the mass of the top–antitop system, further probing the SM (figure 2).

Further reading

ATLAS Collab. 2019 ATLAS-CONF-2019-026.

ATLAS Collab. 2019 ATLAS-CONF-2019-041.

ATLAS Collab. 2019 ATLAS-CONF-2019-046.

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