Usually, you hear a proton is made up out of three quarks, the so-called valence quarks. These quarks, two up-quarks and one down quark, are termed valence quarks. Valence particles provide the proton with its characteristic properties, like its electric charge and spin. In addition, every other particle can also appear inside the proton, as a so-called sea particle. But these are quantum fluctuations, which are only very short lived. There existence has been tested in experiments for gluons, strange quarks, charm quarks, and bottom quarks, as well as photons. We understand this relatively well. Their contribution gets smaller the larger their mass is. So what do we want to add?
Those people reading this blog longer have already seen that one of the central topics we are looking at in our research are the weak interactions and the Higgs. Especially, we figured out that this part of the standard model of particle physics is more involved than is usually assumed. Most importantly, it requires for mathematical consistency that most particles, which we usually call elementary, are more involved bound states, i.e. made up out of multiple particles. Such bound states are very different from elementary particles. E.g., they should have a size. And, in principle, this should show up in experiments.
Of course, mathematical consistency is not sufficient for nature to behave is a certain way. Though it is nice if it does. Therefore 'should' is not sufficient. If we are right, it *must* show up in experiments. Unfortunately, as all of this is associated with the Higgs, which is very heavy, this requires a lot of energy. Since there is currently only one powerful enough experiment available, the LHC at CERN, we need to figure out how to test our ideas with this one. Which, unfortunately, is not ideally suited. But you have to make do with what you have.
Already two years back we figured out that all of the mathematical consistency arguments had a surprising impact for our proton. You see, the proton is one of two very similar particles, the proton and the neutron, the so-called nucleons. They make up all atomic nuclei. The difference between proton and neutron are threefold. Two are their mass and electric charge. They are explained by the valence quarks. The third is the protoness and neutroness - a feature which is called flavor (or sometimes isospin). The aforementioned valence quarks can actually not be really responsible for this quantum number. The argument is very technical, and has a lot to do with gauge symmetry, and especially its more involved aspects. Those who are interested in all the technical details can find it in my review article. Ultimately, it boils down that this flavor cannot come from the valence quarks. Something else needs to provide it.
This something else should not upset those things which are explained by the valence quarks, the mass and spin. Thus, it needs to be spinless and chargeless. The Higgs is the only particle in the standard model, which fits the bill. And it indeed carries something, which can provide the difference between protons and neutrons. In technical terms, it is called the custodial quantum number. What only matters is that this quantity can have two different values, and one can be associated with being proton and the other with being neutron, mathematically completely consistent, if the Higgs is another valence particle.
As the Higgs is much heavier than the proton, the immediate question is, how can that be? But here the combination of quantum mechanics and relativity comes to the rescue. It allows a bound state to be lighter (or heavier) than the sum of the masses of their constituents. Actually, an hydrogen atom is, e.g., lighter than the mass of the constituent proton and electron. But only by an extremely small amount. In the proton, this now works in the same way, but hugely amplified. But we have examples that this is actually possible. So this is fine.
When we now smash two protons together, like at the LHC, we actually get its constituents to interact with each other. And we have now additional Higgs content, so these Higgs can interact as well. However, this will be suppressed by the large mass of the Higgs, as in this case the interaction is as 'if it was alone'. And then it is heavy. Thus, even at the LHC this will be rare.
What we did in the paper was to estimate how rare, and which processes could best be sensitive to this. We find that the LHC so far is not too sensitive to the valence Higgs beyond uncertainties, if the effect is really there. But we figure out that with the production of top quarks at the LHC we should have a sensitive handle for looking for the valence Higgs.
This is really just the first step in hunting the valence Higgs. And it may well be that we need a more powerful experiment in the future to really see the effect. Not to mention that our estimates a very crude, and a lot of calculations need still to be done much better. But it is the first time that the effect of the valence Higgs, as required from mathematical consistency of the standard model, is tested experimentally. And this is a big step into a completely unknown domain. Who knows what we will find along the way.