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The Standard Model is a thing of beauty. It is the most rigorous theory of particle physics, incredibly precise and accurate in its predictions. It mathematically lays out the 17 building blocks of nature: six quarks, six leptons, four force-carrier particles, and the Higgs boson. These are ruled by the electromagnetic, weak and strong forces.
“As for the question ‘What are we?’ the Standard Model has the answer,” says Saúl Ramos, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “It tells us that every object in the universe is not independent, and that every particle is there for a reason.”
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For the past 50 years such a system has allowed scientists to incorporate particle physics into a single equation that explains most of what we can see in the world around us.
Despite its great predictive power, however, the Standard Model fails to answer five crucial questions, which is why particle physicists know their work is far from done.
1. Why do neutrinos have mass?
Three of the Standard Model’s particles are different types of neutrinos. The Standard Model predicts that, like photons, neutrinos should have no mass.
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However, scientists have found that the three neutrinos oscillate, or transform into one another, as they move. This feat is only possible because neutrinos are not massless after all.
“If we use the theories that we have today, we get the wrong answer,” says André de Gouvêa, a professor at Northwestern University.
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The Standard Model got neutrinos wrong, but it remains to be seen just how wrong. After all, the masses neutrinos have are quite small.
Is that all the Standard Model missed, or is there more that we don’t know about neutrinos? Some experimental results have suggested, for example, that there might be a fourth type of neutrino called a sterile neutrino that we have yet...
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