With its talk of D-branes, 10- or 11- dimensional universes and a myriad of possible solutions - 10500 at the last count - string theory looks to many outsiders more like an arcane branch of mathematics that says nothing new about the real world. Not surprisingly, string theory has come in for a lot of criticism in the last year, particularly with the publication of the books Not Even Wrong by US physicist Peter Woit and The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin.
But look into string theory in even a little detail, and it is clear why so many young physicists are lured into the field, as this month's special issue of Physics World reveals. First, although the details need to be worked out, string theory naturally unifies quantum mechanics and general relativity - two of the pillars of physics. Second, string theory is very much guided by problems in the real world - such as questions over the quark-gluon plasma and the entropy of black holes - no matter how remote these might seem.
With CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) due to be switched on next year, now is the wrong time to slam string theory for its lack of predictive power. While not being able to prove string theory is right, the discovery of "supersymmetric" particles at the LHC would give it a major boost, as would the discovery of "Kaluza-Klein" particles and possibly even mini-black holes. A flood of cosmological data due in the next few years will also offer new ways to put string theory to the test.
String theorists can be rightly criticized for having in the past oversold their subject by making grandiose claims about "a theory of everything". But the richness of string theory and its increasing contact with the real world give those involved something to shout about. As the views of even many non-string theorists in this issue of Physics World make clear, the theory still holds all the potential it ever did to revolutionize our understanding of the universe.Also in this issue:
Charlie Wallace | alfa
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MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.
Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.
To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...
The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.
Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...
With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong
Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...
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