Researchers Discovered a New Kind of Higgs Relative in The Unlikeliest of Places

Sometimes, breaking new ground in physics demands exorbitant amounts of energy. Massive machinery. It's all quite nice. Countless hours spent sorting through mountains of information.

The perfect mix of materials may occasionally offer a portal to unseen realms in an area no larger than a tabletop.

Take, for example, this new type of Higgs boson relative. It was discovered in a layered tellurium crystal chunk at ambient temperature. It didn't take years of crushing up particles to find it, though, unlike its renowned relative. It's just a creative use of lasers and a mechanism for untangling the quantum characteristics of their photons.

"It's not every day you find a new particle sitting on your tabletop," adds Kenneth Burch, a Boston College physicist and main co-author of the report revealing the particle's discovery.

Burch and his colleagues discovered an axial Higgs mode, a quantum wobble that technically qualifies as a new type of particle.

Observing theoretical quantum behaviors in action, like so many other quantum physics breakthroughs, brings us closer to exposing potential flaws in the Standard Model and even helps us narrow in on some of the remaining major puzzles.

"The detection of the axial Higgs was predicted in high-energy particle physics to explain dark matter," explains Burch.

Burch and his colleagues caught sight of what's known as an axial Higgs mode, a quantum wiggle that technically qualifies as a new kind of particle.

Like so many discoveries in quantum physics, observing theoretical quantum behaviors in action get us closer to uncovering potential cracks in the Standard Model and even helps us hone in on solving some of the remaining big mysteries.

"However, it has never been observed. Its appearance in a condensed matter system was completely surprising and heralds the discovery of a new broken symmetry state that had not been predicted."

It's been ten years since CERN physicists discovered the Higgs boson amid the chaos of particle collisions. This not only put a stop to the search for the particle, but it also brought the Standard Model's last box — the zoo of basic particles that make up nature's complement of bricks and mortar – to a close.

With the discovery of the Higgs field, scientists could finally validate our knowledge of how model components accumulated mass when at rest. It was a major triumph for physics, and we're still using it to figure out how matter works inside.

While each Higgs particle only survives for a fraction of a second, it is a particle in every sense of the term, blinking quickly into existence as a distinct excitation in a quantum field.

Other scenarios, however, exist in which particles can impart mass. For example, a break in the collective behavior of a rush of electrons known as a charge density wave might suffice.

A Higgs mode is a 'Frankenstein's monster' variant of Higgs that can have properties not observed in its less patched relative, such as a limited degree of angular momentum (or spin).

A spin-1 or axial Higgs mode not only performs the same function as the Higgs boson under extremely particular conditions, but it (and quasiparticles like it) might also be useful for understanding the mysterious mass of dark matter.

The axial Higgs mode may only be seen coming from the collective actions of a crowd as a quasiparticle. Knowing its signature among a slew of quantum waves and then having a technique to sort it out of the confusion is required for seeing it.

Burch and his colleagues discovered the echo of an axial Higgs mode in layers of rare-earth tritelluride by transmitting perfectly coherent light beams from two lasers through such material and then looking for telltale patterns in their alignment.

"Unlike the extreme conditions typically required to observe new particles, this was done at room temperature in a table top experiment where we achieve quantum control of the mode by just changing the polarization of light," says Burch.

It's feasible that the tangle of body components that make up unusual quantum materials contains a slew of additional similar particles. Having the ability to see their shadow in the light of a laser might lead to the discovery of a slew of new physics.