String Theory Holds Promise for Scientists

By Webber, Tom | The Florida Times Union, April 10, 2012 | Go to article overview

String Theory Holds Promise for Scientists


Webber, Tom, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Tom Webber

When my editor and I decided I should write about the latest findings in String Theory, my reaction was, "Yes!"

When I realized I would have only 600 words in which to do it, my reaction was, "No!"

This is a challenging and interesting topic for us to cover, and I have already wasted nearly 60 words, so we'd better get started.

The primary objective of physics is to create a unified model of the universe that describes all matter, energy and forces. String Theory is a promising, albeit controversial, theoretical construct that might guide us to that goal by being able to answer the following questions:

Where do the forces of nature come from?

How did there come to be so many subatomic particles?

What defines mass and charge?

What is the nature of the force carrier for gravity?

But what exactly does String Theory posit? It is a model wherein elementary particles are considered to be one-dimensional filaments of energy, rather than spheres which we intuitively imagined or are often represented. For example, in many physical science books protons, neutrons, electrons and even the smaller subatomic particles are drawn as circles or balls.

It is the oscillations and harmonics of these strings of energy that define each elementary particle.

In its most fundamental form, String Theory considers only bosons - the class of particles that mediates the forces in nature.

However, when its parameters are broadened to incorporate Fermions, the particles that make up matter, the discipline is then called "Superstring Theory." It would strive to explain, well ... everything.

There are five independent Superstring Theories. For many years, scientists struggled to determine which one was "right." Then, in 1995 physicist Edward Witten proposed that each of these five variations was simply a manifestation of a single model, termed M-Theory.

Hold on to your hats - it gets even more bizarre. Superstring Theory, in its execution and to be in alignment with another branch of physics called quantum mechanics, requires 10 dimensions, nine spatial and one temporal. M-Theory demands 11 dimensions, but current thinking allows the reduction of one of those extra spatial dimensions.

It is reasonable and, in fact, necessary, to point out the obvious: We live in four dimensions (three spatial and one temporal). Where are those six extra spatial dimensions? The answer is found by joining String Theory with cosmology, the study of the origin and large-scale structure of the universe. A group of scientists have done just that.

Researchers recently announced exciting results that address the "missing dimensions" problem. Scientists created models of the birth of the universe using the supercomputer at the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics at Kyoto University in Japan.

Their results seem to have confirmed one claim of Superstring Theory. Simulations showed that the universe did have nine spatial dimensions at its origin 13.7 billion years ago, but only three underwent expansion.

"This ... demonstrates, for the first time, that our 3-D space appears naturally ... from the 9-D space that String Theory originally has," said Jun Nishimura, professor at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, an institution where basic questions about the nature of the universe - its mass and energy - are explored.

These extra six spatial dimensions are hiding in the microscopic world of the atom, curled up in a small, compact space. This actually is not a new idea but one that dates back to the 1920s.

So at every point in our 3 + 1 macro-space, there is a six-dimensional ball of space. …

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