Superallowed nuclear beta decay: Precision measurements for basic physics
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For 60 years, superallowed 0+→0+ nuclear beta decay has been used to probe the weak interaction, currently verifying the conservation of the vector current (CVC) to high precision (±0.01%) and anchoring the most demanding available test of the unitarity of the Cabibbo-Kobayashi-Maskawa (CKM) matrix (±0.06%), a fundamental pillar of the electroweak standard model. Each superallowed transition is characterized by its ft-value, a result obtained from three measured quantities: the total decay energy of the transition, its branching ratio, and the half-life of the parent state. Today's data set is composed of some 150 independent measurements of 13 separate superallowed transitions covering a wide range of parent nuclei from 10C to 74Rb. Excellent consistency among the average results for all 13 transitions - a prediction of CVC - also confirms the validity of the small transition-dependent theoretical corrections that have been applied to account for isospin symmetry breaking. With CVC consistency established, the value of the vector coupling constant, GV, has been extracted from the data and used to determine the top left element of the CKM matrix, Vud. With this result the top-row unitarity test of the CKM matrix yields the value 0.99995(61), a result that sets a tight limit on possible new physics beyond the standard model. To have any impact on these fundamental weak-interaction tests, any measurement must be made with a precision of 0.1% or better - a substantial experimental challenge well beyond the requirements of most nuclear physics measurements. I overview the current state of the field and outline some of the requirements that need to be met by experimentalists if they aim to make measurements with this high level of precision. © 2012 American Institute of Physics.
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