Corrections to recent media coverage on the mirror matter theory

One piece of news regarding mirror matter studies was published in June, this year by New Scientist as a cover story titled “We’ve seen signs of a mirror-image universe that is touching our own”. I was interviewed and also quoted in this article. But I was not informed that the article was actually centered about Leah Broussard’s experiment at Oak Ridge national laboratory. As a matter of fact, I was not aware of it at all. The ironic part is that her experiment, as far as I understand, will not uncover any new physics if my new model is correct while I was quoted in the article like a theorist endorsing this and other similar experiments.

I was not aware of this article until one of my Chinese friends showed me the Chinese version of the article. Then I read the full English version from my institution’s library (the online version is not free). The article could have been a good one had the author replaced the experiments with, or at least focused on the ones discussed in the APS april meeting this year. Here are the links to the talks on neutron lifetime experiments at the meeting: session C14 and session D14. I wish I could have attended that meeting.

Shortly after this New Scientist’s article, many other media outlets followed suit and published similar stories.

I don’t know the details of their experiments and I could not find any recent publications related to the proposed measurements. It seems to me that they propose to study n-n’ oscillation effects under weak magnetic fields. And it seems to test one of Zurab Berezhiani’s models. I have admired Berezhiani’s work quite a bit, which certainly inspired some of my effort on the mirror-matter theory. Unfortunately my model is very different.

To observe any n-n’ oscillation effects, much stronger magnetic fields (about 50 Tesla or possibly up to 100 Tesla) are needed according to my model. Such strong magnets are available only at the facilities of National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab). I have been talking to the people at MagLab but they don’t seem to be particularly fond of the idea of shooting neutrons through their magnets. Of course, they’ll be willing to help build a new one at a neutron beam facility. However, the cost is enormous (probably more than 10 million dollars). If anyone knows a billionaire who wants to  support this exciting opportunity of scientific advancement, let me know.

The piece written by Ethan Siegel (see here) is more reasonable,  cautioning any such claims in these news reports. I wish science writers for major media outlets could be more careful or as capable as Dr. Ethan Siegel.

To be clear, I am not here to dismiss Dr. Broussard’s and other people’s work. Such kind of experimental work, although most likely ends up with null results, is still important for the advancement of scientific research. At least, it could help exclude certain regions of the parameter space of a new theory, e.g., weak magnetic fields may have negligible effects on n-n’ oscillations. But what has been presented in the news to the general public is not acceptable. A much higher standard for popular science writing is in need.

Regarding the New Scientist’s report, I thought they were really interested in my newly posted arXiv papers and the report would be centered about my work. I was really amazed that the media people could have recognized the significance of my work so much earlier than the whole entire scientific community. So I was diligently answering their questions and providing description and updates about my work during those days. I was sick and lost my voice back in that period and therefore I had to communicate via emails hoping that the news report could really get my work known. How miserably wrong I was!

For those who have been misled by such news reports, here is the real situation about the mirror matter theory and experiments. This is a far from matured sub-field in physics and is definitely not in the mainstream of research. The early studies on the mirror matter theory were more about a concept and far from a complete theory. The more recent models were mostly concentrated on some arbitrary feeble interaction between ordinary and mirror sectors (e.g., models by Berezhiani and Foot). Other related efforts include the so-called Twin-Higgs models, first proposed by Chacko et al. by studying the Higgs fields of the two sectors.

Most of the earlier arguments for a mirror-matter theory were from theoretical or cosmological view points. In the last couple of years, the neutron lifetime anomaly started to invoke more studies on concrete mirror matter models. Unfortunately, most of the new experimental measurements have either limited or disproved the previous mirror-matter models indicating new ideas are in need.

More discussions on the previous mirror-matter models can be found in my published papers in Physics Letters B and Phys. Rev. D, or my other arXiv papers on the new model ( M3 and SM3 ). The new mirror matter theory I developed is different from other previous proposals and provides a more complete picture of the mirror sector of the Universe. Its quantitative solution to various big problems is comprehensive, consistent, and elegant. Most importantly, various laboratory experiments are proposed to stringently test the new mirror-matter theory.

If any science writer would like to report the exciting progress on the mirror-matter theory in the future, I’d be very happy to help on the quality control of scientific aspects before it gets published. I believe that strong and sound media reporting will do wonders for both scientific research and curious citizens.

Author: Wanpeng Tan

As a research professor at Notre Dame, I share my ideas and thoughts mainly about mirror matter theory and open science on this blog. Under the new theory, we live in the universe with a mirror (hidden) sector of particles. A perfectly imperfect (minimally broken) mirror symmetry is the key to unlock the beauty and elegance of our universe. Click on the menu links for a popular introduction, a technical summary, and list of my papers on the new mirror matter theory.