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Last week, experimental physicists at Fermilab made an exciting announcement. They believe they have confirmed the presence of anomalous activity among muons in an electromagnetic field that are not predicted by the Standard Model of Physics. This result could point to the existence of heretofore unknown particles, or maybe even a fifth fundamental force of physics!

The possibility of a fifth fundamental force of physics was reported back in 2011. That research was a completely different experiment, and as far as I know, it ended up being a dead end. I don't recall ever reading confirmation of the experimental findings.

Fermilab researchers have reproduced experimental results that suggests a new particle or force of nature.

This new experiment, however, makes much more precise measurements, and the confidence is much higher that the anomalous data actually represents a new phenomenon. If this new experimental outcome does, indeed lead to a new fundamental force, it would be very exciting news, indeed.

Currently, the Standard Model of Physics does not agree with our current model of gravity. Finding a way to unify gravity with the rest of the quantum elements of the Standard Model has been a Holy Grail of physicists for decades. If a new particle or fundamental force is discovered, it could potentially be the missing link between the Standard Model and gravity, allowing physicists to finally formalize a Grand Unified Theory. Physicists would certainly be thrilled. But what would a new force of physics mean for us laymen?

Well, that's really hard to predict. If the experiment does, indeed, point towards a new force of nature, then we can possibly get an idea of what that could mean by looking at some of the practical applications that came from the discovery of the other four fundamental forces.

The formalization of the Theory of Gravity by Isaac Newton eventually lead to the invention of airplanes, as well as providing a mathematical basis for the engineering of structures ranging from bridges to roller coasters.

The discovery of the electromagnetic force lead to the subsequent discovery of radio waves, which enables the broadcast of radio, television, wiFi, and cell phone signals that we all use every day. It also provides the theoretical underpinnings of technologies like X-Ray imaging and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which help to treat injuries and save countless lives all over the globe.

Then there's the strong and weak nuclear forces, which gave rise to nuclear energy and [regrettably] the atomic bomb.

And that's only scratching the surface of the practical applications of these theories.

New physics could lead to breakthroughs in energy, computing, communication, healthcare, or other fields.

A fifth fundamental force could similarly lead to new innovations in communications, transportation, energy, healthcare, and so forth. If it does unite gravity with the rest of the Standard Model, maybe it could even lead to the development of a functioning warp drive! Heck, for all we know, it could allow us to create time machines! I'm not going to hold my breath for either of those. The actual applications will likely be much less fantastical, but they could still be society-changing. For example, new physics could lead to breakthroughs in quantum computing and new cleaner, more sustainable energy sources that could speed up the discontinuation of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels, and help us slow down the effects of anthropogenic climate change.

Regardless of the eventual applications, further experimental verification will likely take years. The development of formal theories and practical technologies would still be decades off. You'll still have to wait quite a while for your personal quantum computer, warp-capable car, or quantum power generator.

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