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
Study offers new theoretical approach to describing non-equilibrium phase transitions
27.04.2017 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory
SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
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