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Revisiting the proton-radius problem using constrained Gaussian processes


Background: The "proton radius puzzle" refers to an eight-year old problem that highlights major inconsistencies in the extraction of the charge radius of the proton from muonic Lamb-shift experiments as compared against experiments using elastic electron scattering. For the latter, the determination of the charge radius involves an extrapolation of the experimental form factor to zero momentum transfer. Purpose: To estimate the proton radius by introducing a novel non-parametric approach to model the electric form factor of the proton. Methods: Within a Bayesian paradigm, we develop a model flexible enough to fit the data without any parametric assumptions on the form factor. The Bayesian estimation is guided by imposing only two physical constraints on the form factor: (a) its value at zero momentum transfer (normalization) and (b) its overall shape, assumed to be a monotonically decreasing function of the momentum transfer. Variants of these assumptions are explored to assess the impact of these constraints. Results: So far our results are inconclusive in regard to the proton puzzle, as they depend on both, the assumed constrains and the range of experimental data used. For example, if only low momentum-transfer data is used, adopting only the normalization constraint provides a value compatible with the smaller muonic result, while imposing only the shape constraint favors the larger electronic value. Conclusions: We have presented a novel technique to estimate the proton radius from electron scattering data based on a non-parametric Gaussian process. We have shown the impact of the physical constraints imposed on the form factor and of the range of experimental data used. In this regard, we are hopeful that as this technique is refined and with the anticipated new results from the PRad experiment, we will get closer to resolve of the puzzle.