Sakul Mahat from Dharan, Nepal, is a physics major in his senior year at the University of Mississippi.
He is working with Jake Bennett, an experimental elementary particle physicist and assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and presented his research findings as part of the Belle II experiment at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society at Florida State University in Tallahassee in November 2021.
The Belle II experiment at the SuperKEKB accelerator in Japan—a collaboration with more than 1,000 physicists and engineers from 26 countries—aims to investigate great mysteries of particle physics, including why, if matter and antimatter should have been created in equal amounts after the big bang, is the universe today filled almost entirely with matter?
Mahat has been using simulated data to test the capability of the Belle II experiment to measure particle decays that show deviations from expected patterns. Most theories predict that certain particle decays that include leptons (electrons, muons, and tauons) should proceed at the same rate, no matter the “flavor” of the lepton. Recent measurements give a hint that these predicted conservation laws are broken, suggesting new interactions may be at work.
“All the particles that we see around us and their interactions are described quite well by the Standard Model,” he said. “The Standard Model explains how the basic building block of matter interact. However, there are some important missing pieces to the model. “Lepton Universality” is one of the fundamental assumption of the Standard Model and the overarching goal of my research is to contribute to the validity of this assumption by backing it up with the experimental data.
“This research is important because if the experimental analysis/research does not back up the value of R(D) predicted by the Standard Model, it might suggest a crack in the Standard Model.”
How did your interest in physics develop?
I am a curious kid and physics feeds my curiosity. There is a satisfaction in studying physics that is hard to explain. But more importantly, the critical thinking and the problem solving skills that come with studying physics is a versatile skill to have as a student.
Talk about your college experience as a physics major and work participating in research.
My college experience as a physics major has been phenomenal. The physics department at Ole Miss is growing but it is comparatively a small department with a lot of good professors, so it is really easy for students to make connections with staff and professors around the department. I joined the high energy physics group led by Dr. Jake Bennett late in my sophomore year. At first, working on research was a bit overwhelming but at the same time so satisfying. Collaborating with PhD and PostDoc students on different research topics and learning from them was an experience in itself. Also, Dr. Jake Bennett has been nothing but patient and encouraging with undergraduate students like us and I owe a big part of my academic career to him.
Discuss your career goals.
Although I have not made any concrete career plans as of yet, I want to pursue a PHD in physics or statistics and stay in academia.