UNUNIFIED THEORY; Expert Quest to Prove Strings Bind Universe

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 8, 2007 | Go to article overview

UNUNIFIED THEORY; Expert Quest to Prove Strings Bind Universe


Byline: Jen Waters, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The universe just might be hanging together by strings. Many scientists think that string theory, a unified theory of the universe, could unite quantum mechanics and general relativity.

Albert Einstein worked for many years to find such a theory but came up empty-handed, says Brian Greene, professor of physics and professor of mathematics at Columbia University in New York City. He holds a doctorate in physics.

"He articulated that it would be a single framework that could talk about things that are small, things that are big and so on," Mr. Greene says. "Try as he might, he couldn't come up with a theory that would do that. String theory seems to do just want he wanted, to describe things that are big, fast, small, slow. The issue is that we don't know if it's right."

"String Theory: Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss Debate" will take place at 7 p.m. March 28 at the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium in Northwest. The event is co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Associates and the Department of Energy's Office of Science, both in Southwest.

In string theory, tiny filaments that look like strings are the ingredient that make up everything in the world, Mr. Greene says. The old picture of existence consisted of atoms, electrons, protons, neutrons, nuclei and then quarks.

"In the new picture, you cut even further, and you get something else inside the quarks, a tiny vibrating string," Mr. Green says. "When you introduce the ingredient, the hurdles that Einstein couldn't surmount seem to go away. You can finish the equations that he couldn't finish."

Without a unified theory, it is hard to analyze what happened at the beginning of time, Mr. Greene says. With string theory, scientists hope to peer back to the beginning of the universe using equations.

"It would mean that we might answer questions that people have wrested with for centuries," Mr. Greene says. "Why is there a universe, and how did it come to be?"

For string theory to work, the equations demand up to 10 dimensions of space, not just the three dimensions of space that scientists currently know exist, he says.

"Einstein was too early," Mr. Greene says. "There wasn't enough known about the nature of quantum mechanics and matter and so forth. It was pretty much impossible to take that kind of a leap, as much as a genius as he was."

If the strings exist, they are too small to be seen with today's technology. In 2008, a new atom smasher should be ready at CERN, the European Council for Nuclear Research, an international collaboration for science experiments in Geneva. At this point, the data from the collisions between particles is the best hope to distinguish if string theory is correct, he says.

Currently, when scientists weigh electrons, they are very light. However, no one has been able to explain the results.

"If it was made up of strings, there is a chance that you might be able to explain the electrons' weight, and it would be a profound step forward in our understanding of the world," Mr. Greene says. "We want to understand things as deeply as possible, from the tiniest bits of matter to the far reaches of the cosmos. …

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