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About MECO


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Science in the National Interest

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The MECO Experiment

The physicists who designed MECO (Muon to Electron COnversion) wish to observe an event so rare (1 in 10^17) that searching for it can be compared to trying to find a single slightly different penny in 400 years of the national budget! To perform this search, they plan to make a beam of 100 billion muons per second, or 1,000 times more intense than the best muon beam in the world, now at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland.

The MECO experimental apparatus

What they are looking for is a muon that, instead of decaying by way of the weak force into an electron and 2 neutrinos, converts “cleanly” into an electron. The observation of muon-to-electron conversion would signal the existence of a fifth unseen force in the Universe, and entire families of particles now only predicted by theory. Just as the physics of Isaac Newton could predict the behavior of matter in the everyday world, but failed at speeds near the speed of light, the current Standard Model appears to break down when it tries to predict the behavior of particles at extremely high energies. Theorists have been working hard on new explanations, for example, Supersymmetry, which implies the existence of a hidden universe of currently unknown particles underpinning the matter we observe to date.

The particles we see now fall neatly into three families with remarkably similar properties except for their masses. Although current physics explains very well the interactions among all the known particles, it is totally ignorant about why we observe three distinct families with such different masses. The history of physics is marked by repeated discovery of deeper unifying and organizing principles that underlie observed and seemingly superficial similarities, e.g. between magnetism and electricity, and explain their shared characteristics with a unified theory, e.g. electromagnetism. The goal of RSVP is to crack open the door to yet a new universe of physics.



Last updated January 24, 2006 by Gary Schroeder.