Written by: Ziwen Zhou '23
Edited by: Ishaan Khatri '21
When one thinks of the greatest scientists of the last 500 years, luminaries such as Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein certainly come to mind with their incomparable genius. Indeed, their brilliance has warped the very way that we understand the physical world
As many of us have learned throughout our years in secondary school, gravity and Newton’s fundamental laws of motion can offer a satisfactory explanation for many of the phenomena we observe around us. The classic question of why an apple drops to the ground has an answer that can be attributed to the existence of gravity, as can multiple curiosities related to the interaction of matter and objects in our macroscopic world.
For multiple centuries thereafter, the general consensus was that a Newtonian understanding was sufficient to explain the physics of the observable world. It would take three hundred years after Newton for science to progress into the study of the microscopic world; where to the consternation of many prominent scientific minds, the tenets of Newtonian mechanics began to break down.
Soon, four forces emerged that were deemed to govern the physical world: the strong, weak, and electromagnetic forces, as well as gravity . Still, discrepancies emerged in the four-force model, as empirical evidence amounted that could not be adequately explained as forces clashed with each other for supremacy.
Even Einstein’s remarkable Theory of Relativity, his pinnacle achievement, could not overcome the deficiencies in the four-force model, even as it predicted the existence of previously unknown astral phenomena including black holes, neutron stars, and gravitational waves (all of which have been verified after his time).
To the present day, scientists are searching for a fabled Theory of Everything, which is a cohesive theoretical model that will reconcile all physical aspects of the universe. The crux of the matter is that physicists have been able to verify nearly all predictions given by models using selectively chosen forces; however, as nature does not spontaneously deactivate forces for the convenience of science, these models are inherently flawed. No one has been able to combine all four forces in a sensible model. Scientists have long postulated that there is some missing aspect, which could be an undiscovered force or an unknown eccentricity of matter that currently prevents us from formulating a valid theory.
As such, the scientific community is abuzz with excitement at the groundbreaking research emerging from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences that may conclusively demonstrate the presence of a fifth force at work. The preliminary results of their experiments have already been released, while everyone is still eagerly waiting for a formal presentation of their work in the form of a paper.
While excitement should be tempered for now as the most recent results still need to be replicated, the experiment may be enough to provide insight that will prove key to unlocking the elusive Theory of Everything .
In their experiment, the Hungarian scientists closely observed how an excited helium atom emitted light as it decayed. As atoms lose energy, the excess energy is given off by photons of different energy, which can be measured as light. They noticed that mysterious particles continually split at 115 degrees, which is contrary to what conventional physics would have predicted. The new particles, which the researchers named X17 for the voltage they calculated it to have, could perhaps “connect our visible world with dark matter,” according to lead scientist Attila Krasznahorkay .
In 2016, the same team of Hungarian scientists had managed to obtain similar results from the decay of the beryllium-8 isotope . There too, particles split off at unexpected angles that Jonathon Feng, a professor of physics at the University of California at Irvine, noted could be due to a “fifth protophobic force” as the particles’ unexpected movement could plausibly be explained by repulsion from protons . Feng had been one of the immediate supporters and believers of the Hungarian team, releasing a paper soon afterward in 2016 detailing some potential causes and consequences of their research, even as many in the scientific community cast doubts upon the methods and equipment of the Hungarian group .
If similar sightings of a fifth force are observed in other experiments, not only is the Hungarian team nearly guaranteed a Nobel prize for their revolutionary work, but scientists may be able to further study and harness the power of this new force.
The practical ramifications of a fifth force are limitless, as its effects are highly unpredictable at the moment. Just as electromagnetic fields enable us to make powerful magnets, power light bulbs and fuel our devices, who knows what a fifth force could allow us to do? Some have postulated that it could allow us to exponentially increase our energy efficiency, but a multitude of other potential avenues exist.
But for theoretical physics, moving one step closer to the Holy Grail in the Theory of Everything is already tremendous progress. For example, we may be closer to understanding the perplexing issue of dark matter and energy, which conventional physics calculate to compose 80% of the universe yet have never been observed before. Perhaps this fifth force will give insight to what exactly dark energy and matter are, as well as explain the increasing expansion of the universe we have observed . It may even bring us to the critical point of being able to answer the existential question of what the ultimate fate of the universe, and by extension humanity, is.
 Prior R. A 'no-brainer Nobel Prize': Hungarian scientists may have found a fifth force of nature [Internet]. CNN. Cable News Network; 2019 [cited 2019Nov28]. Available from: https://www.cnn.com/2019/11/22/world/fifth-force-of-nature-scn-trnd/index.html
 Mahmood B. Scientists believe they have found a 'fifth force of nature' [Internet]. Metro. Metro.co.uk; 2019 [cited 2019Nov28]. Available from: https://metro.co.uk/2019/11/24/scientists-believe-found-fifth-force-nature-11209916/
 Cartlidge E. Has a Hungarian physics lab found a fifth force of nature? Nature. 2016 May 25; Available from: https://www.nature.com/news/has-a-hungarian-physics-lab-found-a-fifth-force-of-nature-1.19957
 L. J, Bartosz, Galon, Gardner, Susan, Smolinsky, et al. Protophobic Fifth Force Interpretation of the Observed Anomaly in $^8$Be Nuclear Transitions [Internet]. arXiv.org. 2016 [cited 2019Nov27]. Available from: https://arxiv.org/abs/1604.07411