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:
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A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
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