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Status: Hypothetical
Theorized: 1977, Peccei and Quinn
Mass: 10−6 to 10−2 eV/c2
Electric charge: 0
Spin: 0

The axion is a hypothetical elementary particle postulated by Peccei-Quinn theory in 1977 to resolve the strong-CP problem in quantum chromodynamics (QCD). In 2005, an experimental search by the PVLAS collaboration reported results suggesting axion detection [1]; however new experiments performed by the PVLAS team exclude this result [2]. The 2005 PVLAS results were problematic because compatibility with the negative results of other searches, such as CAST, as well as astrophysical limits, ruled out standard axion scenarios, while alternative hypotheses have been postulated by other researchers. [3][4][5].

The name was introduced by Frank Wilczek, co-writer of the first paper to predict the axion, after a brand of detergent—because the problem with QCD had been "cleaned up".

Additional recommended knowledge



Reasons for prediction

As shown by Gerardus 't Hooft, the strong interactions of the standard model, QCD, possess a non-trivial vacuum structure that in principle permits the violation of the combined symmetries of charge conjugation and parity, collectively known as CP. Together with effects generated by the weak interactions, the effective strong CP violating term, \bar\Theta, appears as a Standard Model input parameter—it is not predicted by the theory, but must be measured. However, large CP violating interactions originating from QCD would induce a large electric dipole moment for the neutron. (While the neutron is an electrically neutral particle, nothing prevents charge separation within the neutron itself.) Experimental constraints on the currently unobserved neutron's electric dipole moment imply that CP violation arising from QCD must be extremely tiny and thus \bar\Theta must itself be extremely small or absent. Since a priori \bar\Theta could have any value between 0 and 2π (the parameter is periodic), this presents a naturalness problem for the standard model. Why should this parameter find itself so close to 0? (Or, why should QCD find itself CP-preserving?) This question constitutes what is known as the strong CP problem.

One simple solution exists: if at least one of the quarks of the standard model is massless, \bar\Theta becomes unobservable, i.e. it vanishes from the theory. However, empirical evidence strongly suggests that none of the quarks are massless and so the strong CP problem persists.

In 1977, Roberto Peccei and Helen Quinn postulated a more elegant solution to the strong CP problem, the Peccei-Quinn mechanism. The idea is to effectively promote \bar\Theta to a field (particle). This is accomplished by adding a new global symmetry (called a Peccei-Quinn symmetry) to the standard model that becomes spontaneously broken. Once this new global symmetry breaks, a new particle results and, as shown by Frank Wilczek and Steven Weinberg, this particle fills the role of \bar\Theta—naturally relaxing the CP violation parameter to zero. This hypothesized new particle is called the Axion. (On a more technical note, the axion is the would-be Goldstone boson that results from the spontaneously broken Peccei-Quinn symmetry. However, the non-trivial QCD vacuum effects (instantons) spoil the Peccei-Quinn symmetry explicitly and provide a small mass for the axion. Hence, the axion is actually a pseudo-Goldstone boson.)

Experimental searches

A number of experiments have attempted to detect axions, including at least one that has claimed positive results.

In the Italian PVLAS experiment polarized light propagates through the magnetic field of 5 T dipole magnet, searching for a small anomalous rotation of the direction of polarization. The concept of the experiment was first put forward in 1986 by Luciano Maiani, Roberto Petronzio and Emilio Zavattini [6], and If axions exist, photons could interact with the field to become virtual or real axions. This rotation is very, very small and difficult to detect, but this problem can be overcome by reflecting light back and forth through the magnetic field millions of times. The most recent PVLAS results do detect an anomalous rotation, which can be interpreted in terms of an axion of mass 1–1.5 meV. However, there are other possible sources for such an effect besides axions.[1]

Several experiments search for axions of astrophysical origin using the Primakoff effect. This effect causes conversions of axions to photons and vice versa in strong electromagnetic fields. Axions can be produced in the Sun's core when X-rays scatter off electrons and protons in the presence of strong electric fields and are converted to axions. The CAST experiment is currently underway to detect these axions by converting them back to gamma rays in a strong magnetic field.

The Axion Dark Matter Experiment (ADMX) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory searches for weakly interacting axions present in the dark matter halo of our galaxy.[7] A strong magnetic field is used to attempt to convert an axion into a microwave photon. The process is enhanced using a tunable resonant cavity scanning the 460–810 MHz range, as determined by the predicted mass of the axion.

Another means of searching for axions is by conducting so called "light shining through walls" experiments, [8] where a beam of light is passed through an intense magnetic field in an attempt to observe the conversion of photons into axions by allowing them to pass through an aluminium plate, blocking the passage of photons. However, these practices are of low efficacy, necessitate high initial proton flux, and those conducted by BFRS and PVLAS have been the subject of some further verification.[9] A recent experiment had the necessary sensitivity to detect this effect if the PLVAS 2005-signal was due to axions; however, no effect was seen. [9]

On 9 July, 2007, a paper submitted to arXiv by Carlo Rizzo[9] and other researchers from the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique indicated with a confidence level of 94% or higher, that they believed the results published by the PVLAS experiment, in Italy were incorrect, and did not prove the existence of the axion.[9] Initially, the team researched the matter after their claim that the axion coupling inferred from the PVLAS experiment did not match with experiments conducted in 2007 and earlier in 2006[10], and thus required review.[9]

The experiment conducted by Rizzo's team differed from the approach of the Italian researchers in the fact that at the end of a vacuum chamber, an aluminium plate was placed[9] to prevent photons from an adjacent laser from passing through the plate, where axions would simply pass through the plate and be converted back into photons[9] , and were able to observe a small-portion of the supposed-converting particles—to the number of 4×1022 photons.[9]

In the use of optical measurement and pulsating beams of light, the team showed through illustration of exclusion curves compared to the PVLAS experiment and another conducted by the BFRT,[9] that the axion had been ruled out but still remained a valid hypothesis;[9] the experiment counting as an important step in the understanding of the particle, with the possibility of a very weak coupled axion.[9]

Later, on the 23 June, the PVLAS submitted a paper to arXiv,[1] in which they noted that upgrades to their measurement systems had been undertaken to increase the accuracy of their results from the previous year,[1] through the use of 2.3 and 5.5 T fields[1] and wavelengths of 1064 nm.[1] With this increased accuracy, PVLAS had noted that the axion particle interpretation had been ruled out[1] due to the absence of a rotational signal on the levels of 1.2·10−8 rad × 5.5 T and 1.0·10−8 rad × 2.3 T with 45,000 passes.[1]



One theory of axions relevant to cosmology had predicted that they would have no electric charge, a very small mass in the range from 10−6 to 10−2 eV/c², and very low interaction cross-sections for strong and weak forces. Because of their properties, axions interact only minimally with ordinary matter. Axions are predicted to change to and from photons in the presence of strong magnetic fields, and this property is used for creating experiments to detect axions.

In supersymmetric theories the axion has both a scalar and a fermionic superpartner. The fermionic superpartner of the axion is called the axino, the scalar superpartner is called the saxion. In some models, the saxion is the dilaton.

Cosmological implications

Theory suggests that axions were created abundantly during the Big Bang. Because of a unique coupling to the instanton field of the primordial universe (the "misalignment mechanism"), an effective dynamical friction is created during the acquisition of mass following cosmic inflation. This robs all such primordial axions of their kinetic energy.

If axions have low mass, thus preventing other decay modes, axion theories predict that the universe would be filled with a very cold Bose-Einstein condensate of primordial axions. Hence, depending on their mass, axions could plausibly explain the dark matter problem of physical cosmology. Observational studies to detect dark matter axions are underway, but they are not yet sufficiently sensitive to probe the mass regions where axions would be expected to be found if they are the solution to the dark matter problem. The microwave cavity experiment known as ADMX recently ruled out an axion as light as about 10−6 eV. High mass axions of the kind searched for by Jain and Singh (2007)[11] would not persist in the modern universe and could not contribute to dark matter.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g E. Zavattini, G. Zavattini, G. Ruoso, E. Polacco, E. Milotti, M. Karuza, U. Gastaldi, G. Di Domenico, F. Della Valle, R. Cimino, S. Carusotto, G. Cantatore and M. Bregant (PVLAS Collaboration),Experimental observation of optical rotation generated in vacuum by a magnetic field, Phys. Rev. Lett. 96, 110406 (2006) preprint.
  2. ^ E. Zavattini (Deceased January 9, 2007), G. Zavattini, G. Raiteri, G. Ruoso, E. Polacco, E. Milotti, V. Lozza, M. Karuza, U. Gastaldi, G. Di Domenico, F. Della Valle, R. Cimino, S. Carusotto, G. Cantatore and M. Bregant (PVLAS Collaboration), New PVLAS results and limits on magnetically induced optical rotation and ellipticity in vacuum, preprint.
  3. ^ Eduard Masso and Javier Redondo, Evading Astrophysical Constraints on Axion-Like Particles, JCAP 0509, 015 (2005) preprint
  4. ^ Avijit K. Ganguly, Pankaj Jain, Subhayan Mandal and Sarah Stokes, Self Interacting Dark Matter in the Solar System, Phys. Rev. D 76, 025026 (2007) preprint
  5. ^ Holger Gies, Joerg Jaeckel and Andreas Ringwald, Polarized Light Propagating in a Magnetic Field as a Probe of Millicharged Fermions, Phys. Rev. Lett. 97, 140402 (2006) preprint
  6. ^ L. Maiani, R. Petronzio, and E. Zavattini, Phys. Lett. 175, 359 (1986)
  7. ^ L. D. Duffy et al., A High Resolution Search for Dark-Matter Axions, Phys. Rev. D 74, 012006 (2006)preprint
  8. ^ A. Ringwald, Fundamental physics at an X-ray free electron laser, Invited talk at the "Workshop on Electromagnetic Probes of Fundamental Physics", Erice, Italy, October 2001 preprint
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Rizzo, Carlo, Sautivet, Anne-Marie, et al. (2007). "No light shining through a wall" CRNS: France, arXiv Retrieved on 15 August, 2007 from
  10. ^ Andriamonje,S., et al. (CAST Collaboration), Journal of Cosmological Astroparticle Physics 4, 10 (2007); Duffy, L. D, et al., Physical Review D, vol 74, 110406 (2006)
  11. ^ P. L. Jain, G. Singh, Search for new particles decaying into electron pairs of mass below 100 MeV/c², J. Phys. G: Nucl. Part. Phys., 34, 129–138, (2007); doi:10.1088/0954-3899/34/1/009, (possible early evidence of 7±1 and 19±1 MeV axions of less than 10−13 s lifetime).

Journal entries

  • R. D. Peccei, H. R. Quinn, Physical Review Letters, 38(1977) p. 1440.
  • R. D. Peccei, H. R. Quinn, Physical Review, D16 (1977) p. 1791–1797.
  • S. Weinberg, Phys. Rev. Letters 40(1978), p. 223:
  • F. Wilczek, Phys. Rev. Letters 40(1978), p. 279
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Axion". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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