We finally peeked beyond the Standard Model

If you ask a physicist like me to explain how the world works, my lazy answer might be: “It follows the Standard Model.”

The Standard Model explains the fundamental physics of how the universe works. It has endured over 50 trips around the Sun despite experimental physicists constantly probing for cracks in the model’s foundations.

With few exceptions, it has stood up to this scrutiny, passing experimental test after experimental test with flying colors. But this wildly successful model has conceptual gaps that suggest there is a bit more to be learned about how the universe works.

I am a neutrino physicist. Neutrinos represent three of the 17 fundamental particles in the Standard Model. They zip through every person on Earth at all times of day. I study the properties of interactions between neutrinos and normal matter particles.

In 2021, physicists around the world ran a number of experiments that probed the Standard Model. Teams measured basic parameters of the model more precisely than ever before. Others investigated the fringes of knowledge where the best experimental measurements don’t quite match the predictions made by the Standard Model. And finally, groups built more powerful technologies designed to push the model to its limits and potentially discover new particles and fields. If these efforts pan out, they could lead to a more complete theory of the universe in the future.