Thursday 1 September 2016

Next stop: tth

This was a summer of brutally dashed hopes for a quick discovery of many fundamental particles that we were imagining. For the time being we need  to focus on the ones that actually exist, such as the Higgs boson. In the Run-1 of the LHC, the Higgs existence and identity were firmly established,  while its mass and basic properties were measured. The signal was observed with large significance in 4 different decay channels (γγ, ZZ*, WW*, ττ), and two different production modes (gluon fusion, vector-boson fusion) have been isolated.  Still, there remains many fine details to sort out. The realistic goal for the Run-2 is to pinpoint the following Higgs processes:
  • (h→bb): Decays to b-quarks.
  • (Vh): Associated production with W or Z boson. 
  • (tth): Associated production with top quarks. 

It seems that the last objective may be achieved quicker than expected. The tth production process is very interesting theoretically, because its rate is proportional to the (square of the) Yukawa coupling between the Higgs boson and top quarks. Within the Standard Model, the value of this parameter is known to a good accuracy, as it is related to the mass of the top quark. But that relation can be  disrupted in models beyond the Standard Model, with the two-Higgs-doublet model and composite/little Higgs models serving as prominent examples. Thus, measurements of the top Yukawa coupling will provide a crucial piece of information about new physics.

In the Run-1, a not-so-small signal of tth production was observed by the ATLAS and CMS collaborations in several channels. Assuming that Higgs decays have the same branching fraction as in the Standard Model, the tth signal strength normalized to the Standard Model prediction was estimated as

At face value, a strong evidence for the tth production was obtained in the Run-1! This fact was not advertised by the collaborations because the measurement is not clean due to a large number of top quarks produced by other processes at the LHC. The tth signal is thus a small blip on top of a huge background, and it's not excluded that some unaccounted for systematic errors are skewing the measurements. The collaborations thus preferred to play it safe, and wait for more data to be collected.

In the Run-2 with 13 TeV collisions the tth production cross section is 4-times larger than in the Run-1, therefore the new data are coming at a fast pace. Both ATLAS and CMS presented their first Higgs results in early August, and the tth signal is only getting stronger.  ATLAS showed their measurements in the γγ, WW/ττ, and bb final states of Higgs decay, as well as their combination:
Most channels display a signal-like excess, which is reflected by the Run-2 combination being 2.5 sigma away from zero. A similar picture is emerging in CMS, with 2-sigma signals in the γγ and WW/ττ channels. Naively combining all Run-1 and and Run-2 results one then finds
At face value, this is a discovery! Of course, this number should be treated with some caution because, due to large systematic errors, a naive Gaussian combination may not represent very well the true likelihood. Nevertheless, it indicates that, if all goes well, the discovery of the tth production mode should be officially announced in the near future, maybe even this year.

Should we get excited that the measured tth rate is significantly larger than Standard Model one? Assuming  that the current central value remains, it would mean that  the top Yukawa coupling is 40% larger than that predicted by the Standard Model. This is not impossible, but very unlikely in practice. The reason is that the top Yukawa coupling also controls the gluon fusion - the main Higgs production channel at the LHC - whose rate is measured to be in perfect agreement with the Standard Model.  Therefore, a realistic model that explains the large tth rate would also have to provide negative contributions to the gluon fusion amplitude, so as to cancel the effect of the large top Yukawa coupling. It is possible to engineer such a cancellation in concrete models, but  I'm not aware of any construction where this conspiracy arises in a natural way. Most likely, the currently observed excess is  a statistical fluctuation (possibly in combination with  underestimated theoretical and/or  experimental errors), and the central value will drift toward μ=1 as more data is collected. 


  1. In that gluon fusion diagram, what does the little minus sign on the gluon mean? Is it something about its phase?

  2. I thought top partners in little Higgs theories just did the job

  3. Xezlec, it looks like an image-cropping effect :)

  4. Instead of looking for some improbable deviation from the standard model, I suggest you all go fishing, at least you are sure to find something.

  5. Yep, the minus is a bottom part of something else on the slide from which I cut the image :)

  6. Tax, indeed, the heavy top partner in composite Higgs or little Higgs models completes the gluon fusion diagram such that the total rate is only slightly affected. The problem is that in those theories you get *suppressed* tth.

  7. It's a bit unrelated - however also on BSM, so i dare to ask it here :)
    There was a 2.5sigma global excess at 1.5TeV in the WZ channel of ATLAS ( Is there any news on that? Did CMS publish similar measurements?

  8. My hoarse-sounding horn
    Invites thee to the chase, the sport of kings.

    William Somerville - "The Anomaly Chase"

  9. Jester, does it mean that if the discovery is confirmed the theory wouldn't have much to explain it? Such a contrast to our previous conundrum - or is it post effect?

  10. R_b for the next generation...


  11. RBS, no, it's fairly straightforward to construct a model that explains it. Take for example, 2-Higgs-Doublet model at low tan beta, plus vector-like tops with negative Yukawa coupling to the Higgs. So we can still write 500 papers if the deviation becomes significant :) What I meant is that I'm not aware of a model where 1) Yukawa top is much larger than one, and 2) gluon fusion rate is SM-like arise naturally, without ad-hoc tuning of model parameters.

  12. Jester, any thoughts on the Z+(H->WW) deviations?

  13. BTW (and apologies for an offtop Jester) a really, really neat summary of the current state of HEP from Natali Wolchover (Quanta Magazine):

    Frontiers of Physics

  14. Hi,

    you may have heard of the paper arXiv:1506.00612v2 "The compatibility of LHC Run 1 data with a heavy scalar of mass around 270 GeV". I'm not saying anything about the credibility of such model, but this incarnation of the 2HDM seems to live well with (actually, to contaminate) a measured ttH cross-section larger than the SM prediction alone.