In physics, string theory is a theoretical framework in which the point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by

Leonard Susskind
Leonard Susskind (; born June 16, 1940)his 60th birthday was celebrated with a special symposium at Stanford University.in Geoffrey West's introduction, he gives Suskind's current age as 74 and says his birthday was recent. is an American physicis ...

had incorporated the

Leonard Susskind
Leonard Susskind (; born June 16, 1940)his 60th birthday was celebrated with a special symposium at Stanford University.in Geoffrey West's introduction, he gives Suskind's current age as 74 and says his birthday was recent. is an American physicis ...

formulated matrix theory, a full holographic description of M-theory using IIA D0 branes. This was the first definition of string theory that was fully non-perturbative and a concrete mathematical realization of the

Not Even Wrong

A blog critical of string theory

The Official String Theory Web Site

Why String Theory

An introduction to string theory. Video

bbc-horizon: parallel-uni

— 2002 feature documentary by BBC Horizon, episode Parallel Universes focus on history and emergence of M-theory, and scientists involved.

pbs.org-nova: elegant-uni

— 2003 Emmy Award-winning, three-hour miniseries by

one-dimensional
In physics and mathematics, a sequence of ''n'' numbers can specify a location in ''n''-dimensional space. When , the set of all such locations is called a one-dimensional space. An example of a one-dimensional space is the number line, where ...

objects called strings. String theory describes how these strings propagate through space and interact with each other. On distance scales larger than the string scale, a string looks just like an ordinary particle, with its mass, charge
Charge or charged may refer to:
Arts, entertainment, and media Films
* '' Charge, Zero Emissions/Maximum Speed'', a 2011 documentary
Music
* ''Charge'' (David Ford album)
* ''Charge'' (Machel Montano album)
* '' Charge!!'', an album by The Aq ...

, and other properties determined by the vibrational state of the string. In string theory, one of the many vibrational states of the string corresponds to the graviton
In theories of quantum gravity, the graviton is the hypothetical quantum of gravity, an elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitational interaction. There is no complete quantum field theory of gravitons due to an outstanding math ...

, a quantum mechanical particle that carries the gravitational force. Thus, string theory is a theory of quantum gravity
Quantum gravity (QG) is a field of theoretical physics that seeks to describe gravity according to the principles of quantum mechanics; it deals with environments in which neither gravitational nor quantum effects can be ignored, such as in the ...

.
String theory is a broad and varied subject that attempts to address a number of deep questions of fundamental physics. String theory has contributed a number of advances to mathematical physics, which have been applied to a variety of problems in black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing, including light or other electromagnetic waves, has enough energy to escape it. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can defo ...

physics, early universe cosmology, nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies atomic nuclei and their constituents and interactions, in addition to the study of other forms of nuclear matter.
Nuclear physics should not be confused with atomic physics, which studies the ...

, and condensed matter physics, and it has stimulated a number of major developments in pure mathematics
Pure mathematics is the study of mathematical concepts independently of any application outside mathematics. These concepts may originate in real-world concerns, and the results obtained may later turn out to be useful for practical applications ...

. Because string theory potentially provides a unified description of gravity and particle physics, it is a candidate for a theory of everything, a self-contained mathematical model
A mathematical model is a description of a system using mathematical concepts and language. The process of developing a mathematical model is termed mathematical modeling. Mathematical models are used in the natural sciences (such as physics, b ...

that describes all fundamental force
In physics, the fundamental interactions, also known as fundamental forces, are the interactions that do not appear to be reducible to more basic interactions. There are four fundamental interactions known to exist: the gravitational and electr ...

s and forms of matter
In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic pa ...

. Despite much work on these problems, it is not known to what extent string theory describes the real world or how much freedom the theory allows in the choice of its details.
String theory was first studied in the late 1960s as a theory of the strong nuclear force, before being abandoned in favor of quantum chromodynamics. Subsequently, it was realized that the very properties that made string theory unsuitable as a theory of nuclear physics made it a promising candidate for a quantum theory of gravity. The earliest version of string theory, bosonic string theory
Bosonic string theory is the original version of string theory, developed in the late 1960s and named after Satyendra Nath Bose. It is so called because it contains only bosons in the spectrum.
In the 1980s, supersymmetry was discovered in the con ...

, incorporated only the class of particles known as boson
In particle physics, a boson ( ) is a subatomic particle whose spin quantum number has an integer value (0,1,2 ...). Bosons form one of the two fundamental classes of subatomic particle, the other being fermions, which have odd half-integer s ...

s. It later developed into superstring theory
Superstring theory is an attempt to explain all of the particles and fundamental forces of nature in one theory by modeling them as vibrations of tiny supersymmetric strings.
'Superstring theory' is a shorthand for supersymmetric string theo ...

, which posits a connection called supersymmetry between bosons and the class of particles called fermion
In particle physics, a fermion is a particle that follows Fermi–Dirac statistics. Generally, it has a half-odd-integer spin: spin , spin , etc. In addition, these particles obey the Pauli exclusion principle. Fermions include all quarks ...

s. Five consistent versions of superstring theory were developed before it was conjectured in the mid-1990s that they were all different limiting cases of a single theory in 11 dimensions known as M-theory. In late 1997, theorists discovered an important relationship called the anti-de Sitter/conformal field theory correspondence (AdS/CFT correspondence), which relates string theory to another type of physical theory called a quantum field theory.
One of the challenges of string theory is that the full theory does not have a satisfactory definition in all circumstances. Another issue is that the theory is thought to describe an enormous landscape
A landscape is the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or man-made features, often considered in terms of their aesthetic appeal.''New Oxford American Dictionary''. A landscape includes the ...

of possible universes, which has complicated efforts to develop theories of particle physics based on string theory. These issues have led some in the community to criticize these approaches to physics, and to question the value of continued research on string theory unification.
Fundamentals

Overview

In the 20th century, two theoretical frameworks emerged for formulating the laws of physics. The first isAlbert Einstein
Albert Einstein ( ; ; 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest and most influential physicists of all time. Einstein is best known for developing the theory ...

's general theory of relativity
General relativity, also known as the general theory of relativity and Einstein's theory of gravity, is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1915 and is the current description of gravitation in modern physics. ...

, a theory that explains the force of gravity and the structure of spacetime
In physics, spacetime is a mathematical model that combines the three-dimensional space, three dimensions of space and one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional manifold. Minkowski diagram, Spacetime diagrams can be used to visualize S ...

at the macro-level. The other is quantum mechanics, a completely different formulation, which uses known probability principles to describe physical phenomena at the micro-level. By the late 1970s, these two frameworks had proven to be sufficient to explain most of the observed features of the universe, from elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a subatomic particle that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include electrons, the fundamental fermions (quarks, leptons, a ...

s to atom
Every atom is composed of a nucleus and one or more electrons bound to the nucleus. The nucleus is made of one or more protons and a number of neutrons. Only the most common variety of hydrogen has no neutrons.
Every solid, liquid, gas, and ...

s to the evolution of stars and the universe as a whole. Becker, Becker and Schwarz, p. 1
In spite of these successes, there are still many problems that remain to be solved. One of the deepest problems in modern physics is the problem of quantum gravity
Quantum gravity (QG) is a field of theoretical physics that seeks to describe gravity according to the principles of quantum mechanics; it deals with environments in which neither gravitational nor quantum effects can be ignored, such as in the ...

. The general theory of relativity is formulated within the framework of classical physics, whereas the other fundamental forces are described within the framework of quantum mechanics. A quantum theory of gravity is needed in order to reconcile general relativity with the principles of quantum mechanics, but difficulties arise when one attempts to apply the usual prescriptions of quantum theory to the force of gravity. In addition to the problem of developing a consistent theory of quantum gravity, there are many other fundamental problems in the physics of atomic nuclei
The atomic nucleus is the small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom, discovered in 1911 by Ernest Rutherford based on the 1909 Geiger–Marsden gold foil experiment. After the discovery of the neutron ...

, black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing, including light or other electromagnetic waves, has enough energy to escape it. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can defo ...

s, and the early universe.
String theory is a theoretical framework that attempts to address these questions and many others. The starting point for string theory is the idea that the point-like particles of particle physics can also be modeled as one-dimensional objects called strings. String theory describes how strings propagate through space and interact with each other. In a given version of string theory, there is only one kind of string, which may look like a small loop or segment of ordinary string, and it can vibrate in different ways. On distance scales larger than the string scale, a string will look just like an ordinary particle, with its mass, charge
Charge or charged may refer to:
Arts, entertainment, and media Films
* '' Charge, Zero Emissions/Maximum Speed'', a 2011 documentary
Music
* ''Charge'' (David Ford album)
* ''Charge'' (Machel Montano album)
* '' Charge!!'', an album by The Aq ...

, and other properties determined by the vibrational state of the string. In this way, all of the different elementary particles may be viewed as vibrating strings. In string theory, one of the vibrational states of the string gives rise to the graviton
In theories of quantum gravity, the graviton is the hypothetical quantum of gravity, an elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitational interaction. There is no complete quantum field theory of gravitons due to an outstanding math ...

, a quantum mechanical particle that carries gravitational force. Thus string theory is a theory of quantum gravity. Becker, Becker and Schwarz, pp. 2–3
One of the main developments of the past several decades in string theory was the discovery of certain 'dualities', mathematical transformations that identify one physical theory with another. Physicists studying string theory have discovered a number of these dualities between different versions of string theory, and this has led to the conjecture that all consistent versions of string theory are subsumed in a single framework known as M-theory.
Studies of string theory have also yielded a number of results on the nature of black holes and the gravitational interaction. There are certain paradoxes that arise when one attempts to understand the quantum aspects of black holes, and work on string theory has attempted to clarify these issues. In late 1997 this line of work culminated in the discovery of the anti-de Sitter/conformal field theory correspondence or AdS/CFT. This is a theoretical result that relates string theory to other physical theories which are better understood theoretically. The AdS/CFT correspondence has implications for the study of black holes and quantum gravity, and it has been applied to other subjects, including nuclear
Nuclear may refer to:
Physics
Relating to the Atomic nucleus, nucleus of the atom:
*Nuclear engineering
*Nuclear physics
*Nuclear power
*Nuclear reactor
*Nuclear weapon
*Nuclear medicine
*Radiation therapy
*Nuclear warfare
Mathematics
*Nuclear ...

and condensed matter physics.
Since string theory incorporates all of the fundamental interactions, including gravity, many physicists hope that it will eventually be developed to the point where it fully describes our universe, making it a theory of everything. One of the goals of current research in string theory is to find a solution of the theory that reproduces the observed spectrum of elementary particles, with a small cosmological constant, containing dark matter
Dark matter is a hypothetical form of matter thought to account for approximately 85% of the matter in the universe. Dark matter is called "dark" because it does not appear to interact with the electromagnetic field, which means it does not a ...

and a plausible mechanism for cosmic inflation
In physical cosmology, cosmic inflation, cosmological inflation, or just inflation, is a theory of exponential expansion of space in the early universe. The inflationary epoch lasted from seconds after the conjectured Big Bang singularit ...

. While there has been progress toward these goals, it is not known to what extent string theory describes the real world or how much freedom the theory allows in the choice of details.
One of the challenges of string theory is that the full theory does not have a satisfactory definition in all circumstances. The scattering of strings is most straightforwardly defined using the techniques of perturbation theory
In mathematics and applied mathematics, perturbation theory comprises methods for finding an approximate solution to a problem, by starting from the exact solution of a related, simpler problem. A critical feature of the technique is a middle ...

, but it is not known in general how to define string theory nonperturbatively. It is also not clear whether there is any principle by which string theory selects its vacuum state, the physical state that determines the properties of our universe. These problems have led some in the community to criticize these approaches to the unification of physics and question the value of continued research on these problems. Woit
Strings

The application of quantum mechanics to physical objects such as theelectromagnetic field
An electromagnetic field (also EM field or EMF) is a classical (i.e. non-quantum) field produced by (stationary or moving) electric charges. It is the field described by classical electrodynamics (a classical field theory) and is the classical ...

, which are extended in space and time, is known as quantum field theory. In particle physics, quantum field theories form the basis for our understanding of elementary particles, which are modeled as excitations in the fundamental fields.
In quantum field theory, one typically computes the probabilities of various physical events using the techniques of perturbation theory
In mathematics and applied mathematics, perturbation theory comprises methods for finding an approximate solution to a problem, by starting from the exact solution of a related, simpler problem. A critical feature of the technique is a middle ...

. Developed by Richard Feynman and others in the first half of the twentieth century, perturbative quantum field theory uses special diagrams called Feynman diagrams to organize computations. One imagines that these diagrams depict the paths of point-like particles and their interactions.
The starting point for string theory is the idea that the point-like particles of quantum field theory can also be modeled as one-dimensional objects called strings. The interaction of strings is most straightforwardly defined by generalizing the perturbation theory used in ordinary quantum field theory. At the level of Feynman diagrams, this means replacing the one-dimensional diagram representing the path of a point particle by a two-dimensional (2D) surface representing the motion of a string. Becker, Becker and Schwarz, p. 6 Unlike in quantum field theory, string theory does not have a full non-perturbative definition, so many of the theoretical questions that physicists would like to answer remain out of reach.
In theories of particle physics based on string theory, the characteristic length scale of strings is assumed to be on the order of the Planck length, or meters, the scale at which the effects of quantum gravity are believed to become significant. On much larger length scales, such as the scales visible in physics laboratories, such objects would be indistinguishable from zero-dimensional point particles, and the vibrational state of the string would determine the type of particle. One of the vibrational states of a string corresponds to the graviton, a quantum mechanical particle that carries the gravitational force.
The original version of string theory was bosonic string theory
Bosonic string theory is the original version of string theory, developed in the late 1960s and named after Satyendra Nath Bose. It is so called because it contains only bosons in the spectrum.
In the 1980s, supersymmetry was discovered in the con ...

, but this version described only bosons, a class of particles that transmit forces between the matter particles, or fermions. Bosonic string theory was eventually superseded by theories called superstring theories. These theories describe both bosons and fermions, and they incorporate a theoretical idea called supersymmetry. In theories with supersymmetry, each boson has a counterpart which is a fermion, and vice versa.
There are several versions of superstring theory: type I Type 1 or Type I or ''variant'', may refer to:
Health
*Diabetes mellitus type 1 (also known as "Type 1 Diabetes"), insulin-dependent diabetes
* Type I female genital mutilation
* Type 1 personality
*Type I hypersensitivity (or immediate hypersensit ...

, type IIA, type IIB, and two flavors of heterotic string
In string theory, a heterotic string is a closed string (or loop) which is a hybrid ('heterotic') of a superstring and a bosonic string. There are two kinds of heterotic string, the heterotic SO(32) and the heterotic E8 × E8, abbreviat ...

theory ( and ). The different theories allow different types of strings, and the particles that arise at low energies exhibit different symmetries
Symmetry (from grc, συμμετρία "agreement in dimensions, due proportion, arrangement") in everyday language refers to a sense of harmonious and beautiful proportion and balance. In mathematics, "symmetry" has a more precise definiti ...

. For example, the type I theory includes both open strings (which are segments with endpoints) and closed strings (which form closed loops), while types IIA, IIB and heterotic include only closed strings.
Extra dimensions

In everyday life, there are three familiar dimensions (3D) of space: height, width and length. Einstein's general theory of relativity treats time as a dimension on par with the three spatial dimensions; in general relativity, space and time are not modeled as separate entities but are instead unified to a four-dimensional (4D)spacetime
In physics, spacetime is a mathematical model that combines the three-dimensional space, three dimensions of space and one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional manifold. Minkowski diagram, Spacetime diagrams can be used to visualize S ...

. In this framework, the phenomenon of gravity is viewed as a consequence of the geometry of spacetime.
In spite of the fact that the Universe is well described by 4D spacetime, there are several reasons why physicists consider theories in other dimensions. In some cases, by modeling spacetime in a different number of dimensions, a theory becomes more mathematically tractable, and one can perform calculations and gain general insights more easily. There are also situations where theories in two or three spacetime dimensions are useful for describing phenomena in condensed matter physics. Finally, there exist scenarios in which there could actually be more than 4D of spacetime which have nonetheless managed to escape detection.
String theories require extra dimensions of spacetime for their mathematical consistency. In bosonic string theory, spacetime is 26-dimensional, while in superstring theory it is 10-dimensional, and in M-theory it is 11-dimensional. In order to describe real physical phenomena using string theory, one must therefore imagine scenarios in which these extra dimensions would not be observed in experiments.
Compactification is one way of modifying the number of dimensions in a physical theory. In compactification, some of the extra dimensions are assumed to "close up" on themselves to form circles. Yau and Nadis, Ch. 6 In the limit where these curled up dimensions become very small, one obtains a theory in which spacetime has effectively a lower number of dimensions. A standard analogy for this is to consider a multidimensional object such as a garden hose. If the hose is viewed from a sufficient distance, it appears to have only one dimension, its length. However, as one approaches the hose, one discovers that it contains a second dimension, its circumference. Thus, an ant crawling on the surface of the hose would move in two dimensions.
Compactification can be used to construct models in which spacetime is effectively four-dimensional. However, not every way of compactifying the extra dimensions produces a model with the right properties to describe nature. In a viable model of particle physics, the compact extra dimensions must be shaped like a Calabi–Yau manifold. A Calabi–Yau manifold is a special space which is typically taken to be six-dimensional in applications to string theory. It is named after mathematicians Eugenio Calabi and Shing-Tung Yau.
Another approach to reducing the number of dimensions is the so-called brane-world scenario. In this approach, physicists assume that the observable universe is a four-dimensional subspace of a higher dimensional space. In such models, the force-carrying bosons of particle physics arise from open strings with endpoints attached to the four-dimensional subspace, while gravity arises from closed strings propagating through the larger ambient space. This idea plays an important role in attempts to develop models of real-world physics based on string theory, and it provides a natural explanation for the weakness of gravity compared to the other fundamental forces.
Dualities

A notable fact about string theory is that the different versions of the theory all turn out to be related in highly nontrivial ways. One of the relationships that can exist between different string theories is called S-duality. This is a relationship that says that a collection of strongly interacting particles in one theory can, in some cases, be viewed as a collection of weakly interacting particles in a completely different theory. Roughly speaking, a collection of particles is said to be strongly interacting if they combine and decay often and weakly interacting if they do so infrequently. Type I string theory turns out to be equivalent by S-duality to the heterotic string theory. Similarly, type IIB string theory is related to itself in a nontrivial way by S-duality. Becker, Becker and Schwarz Another relationship between different string theories is T-duality. Here one considers strings propagating around a circular extra dimension. T-duality states that a string propagating around a circle of radius is equivalent to a string propagating around a circle of radius in the sense that all observable quantities in one description are identified with quantities in the dual description. For example, a string hasmomentum
In Newtonian mechanics, momentum (more specifically linear momentum or translational momentum) is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. It is a vector quantity, possessing a magnitude and a direction. If is an object's mass a ...

as it propagates around a circle, and it can also wind around the circle one or more times. The number of times the string winds around a circle is called the winding number. If a string has momentum and winding number in one description, it will have momentum and winding number in the dual description. For example, type IIA string theory is equivalent to type IIB string theory via T-duality, and the two versions of heterotic string theory are also related by T-duality.
In general, the term ''duality'' refers to a situation where two seemingly different physical system
A physical system is a collection of physical objects.
In physics, it is a portion of the physical universe chosen for analysis. Everything outside the system is known as the environment. The environment is ignored except for its effects on the ...

s turn out to be equivalent in a nontrivial way. Two theories related by a duality need not be string theories. For example, Montonen–Olive duality is an example of an S-duality relationship between quantum field theories. The AdS/CFT correspondence is an example of a duality that relates string theory to a quantum field theory. If two theories are related by a duality, it means that one theory can be transformed in some way so that it ends up looking just like the other theory. The two theories are then said to be ''dual'' to one another under the transformation. Put differently, the two theories are mathematically different descriptions of the same phenomena.
Branes

In string theory and other related theories, a brane is a physical object that generalizes the notion of a point particle to higher dimensions. For instance, a point particle can be viewed as a brane of dimension zero, while a string can be viewed as a brane of dimension one. It is also possible to consider higher-dimensional branes. In dimension ''p'', these are called ''p''-branes. The word brane comes from the word "membrane" which refers to a two-dimensional brane. Branes are dynamical objects which can propagate through spacetime according to the rules of quantum mechanics. They have mass and can have other attributes such as charge. A ''p''-brane sweeps out a (''p''+1)-dimensional volume in spacetime called its ''worldvolume''. Physicists often studyfields
Fields may refer to:
Music
*Fields (band), an indie rock band formed in 2006
*Fields (progressive rock band), a progressive rock band formed in 1971
* ''Fields'' (album), an LP by Swedish-based indie rock band Junip (2010)
* "Fields", a song by ...

analogous to the electromagnetic field which live on the worldvolume of a brane.
In string theory, D-branes are an important class of branes that arise when one considers open strings. As an open string propagates through spacetime, its endpoints are required to lie on a D-brane. The letter "D" in D-brane refers to a certain mathematical condition on the system known as the Dirichlet boundary condition. The study of D-branes in string theory has led to important results such as the AdS/CFT correspondence, which has shed light on many problems in quantum field theory.
Branes are frequently studied from a purely mathematical point of view, and they are described as objects of certain categories, such as the derived category of coherent sheaves on a complex algebraic variety
In algebraic geometry, a complex algebraic variety is an algebraic variety (in the scheme sense or otherwise) over the field of complex numbers. Parshin, Alexei N., and Igor Rostislavovich Shafarevich, eds. ''Algebraic Geometry III: Complex Algeb ...

, or the Fukaya category of a symplectic manifold
In differential geometry, a subject of mathematics, a symplectic manifold is a smooth manifold, M , equipped with a closed nondegenerate differential 2-form \omega , called the symplectic form. The study of symplectic manifolds is called symp ...

. The connection between the physical notion of a brane and the mathematical notion of a category has led to important mathematical insights in the fields of algebraic and symplectic geometry and representation theory
Representation theory is a branch of mathematics that studies abstract algebraic structures by ''representing'' their elements as linear transformations of vector spaces, and studies modules over these abstract algebraic structures. In ess ...

.
M-theory

Prior to 1995, theorists believed that there were five consistent versions of superstring theory (type I, type IIA, type IIB, and two versions of heterotic string theory). This understanding changed in 1995 when Edward Witten suggested that the five theories were just special limiting cases of an eleven-dimensional theory called M-theory. Witten's conjecture was based on the work of a number of other physicists, including Ashoke Sen, Chris Hull, Paul Townsend, and Michael Duff. His announcement led to a flurry of research activity now known as the second superstring revolution. DuffUnification of superstring theories

In the 1970s, many physicists became interested in supergravity theories, which combine general relativity with supersymmetry. Whereas general relativity makes sense in any number of dimensions, supergravity places an upper limit on the number of dimensions. In 1978, work byWerner Nahm
Werner Nahm (; born 21 March 1949) is a German theoretical physicist, with the status of professor. He has made contributions to mathematical physics and fundamental theoretical physics.
Life and work
Werner Nahm attended Gymnasium Philip ...

showed that the maximum spacetime dimension in which one can formulate a consistent supersymmetric theory is eleven. In the same year, Eugene Cremmer
Eugene may refer to:
People and fictional characters
* Eugene (given name), including a list of people and fictional characters with the given name
* Eugene (actress) (born 1981), Kim Yoo-jin, South Korean actress and former member of the sin ...

, Bernard Julia
Bernard Julia (born 1952 in Paris) is a French theoretical physicist who has made contributions to the theory of supergravity. He graduated from Université Paris-Sud in 1978,
and is directeur de recherche with the CNRS working at the École ...

, and Joël Scherk of the École Normale Supérieure showed that supergravity not only permits up to eleven dimensions but is in fact most elegant in this maximal number of dimensions. Duff, p. 65
Initially, many physicists hoped that by compactifying eleven-dimensional supergravity, it might be possible to construct realistic models of our four-dimensional world. The hope was that such models would provide a unified description of the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism, the strong and weak nuclear force
In nuclear physics and particle physics, the weak interaction, which is also often called the weak force or weak nuclear force, is one of the four known fundamental interactions, with the others being electromagnetism, the strong interactio ...

s, and gravity. Interest in eleven-dimensional supergravity soon waned as various flaws in this scheme were discovered. One of the problems was that the laws of physics appear to distinguish between clockwise and counterclockwise, a phenomenon known as chirality. Edward Witten and others observed this chirality property cannot be readily derived by compactifying from eleven dimensions.
In the first superstring revolution in 1984, many physicists turned to string theory as a unified theory of particle physics and quantum gravity. Unlike supergravity theory, string theory was able to accommodate the chirality of the standard model, and it provided a theory of gravity consistent with quantum effects. Another feature of string theory that many physicists were drawn to in the 1980s and 1990s was its high degree of uniqueness. In ordinary particle theories, one can consider any collection of elementary particles whose classical behavior is described by an arbitrary Lagrangian. In string theory, the possibilities are much more constrained: by the 1990s, physicists had argued that there were only five consistent supersymmetric versions of the theory.
Although there were only a handful of consistent superstring theories, it remained a mystery why there was not just one consistent formulation. However, as physicists began to examine string theory more closely, they realized that these theories are related in intricate and nontrivial ways. They found that a system of strongly interacting strings can, in some cases, be viewed as a system of weakly interacting strings. This phenomenon is known as S-duality. It was studied by Ashoke Sen in the context of heterotic strings in four dimensions and by Chris Hull and Paul Townsend in the context of the type IIB theory. Theorists also found that different string theories may be related by T-duality. This duality implies that strings propagating on completely different spacetime geometries may be physically equivalent.
At around the same time, as many physicists were studying the properties of strings, a small group of physicists were examining the possible applications of higher dimensional objects. In 1987, Eric Bergshoeff, Ergin Sezgin, and Paul Townsend showed that eleven-dimensional supergravity includes two-dimensional branes. Intuitively, these objects look like sheets or membranes propagating through the eleven-dimensional spacetime. Shortly after this discovery, Michael Duff, Paul Howe, Takeo Inami, and Kellogg Stelle considered a particular compactification of eleven-dimensional supergravity with one of the dimensions curled up into a circle. In this setting, one can imagine the membrane wrapping around the circular dimension. If the radius of the circle is sufficiently small, then this membrane looks just like a string in ten-dimensional spacetime. Duff and his collaborators showed that this construction reproduces exactly the strings appearing in type IIA superstring theory.
Speaking at a string theory conference in 1995, Edward Witten made the surprising suggestion that all five superstring theories were in fact just different limiting cases of a single theory in eleven spacetime dimensions. Witten's announcement drew together all of the previous results on S- and T-duality and the appearance of higher-dimensional branes in string theory. In the months following Witten's announcement, hundreds of new papers appeared on the Internet confirming different parts of his proposal. Today this flurry of work is known as the second superstring revolution.
Initially, some physicists suggested that the new theory was a fundamental theory of membranes, but Witten was skeptical of the role of membranes in the theory. In a paper from 1996, Hořava and Witten wrote "As it has been proposed that the eleven-dimensional theory is a supermembrane theory but there are some reasons to doubt that interpretation, we will non-committally call it the M-theory, leaving to the future the relation of M to membranes." In the absence of an understanding of the true meaning and structure of M-theory, Witten has suggested that the ''M'' should stand for "magic", "mystery", or "membrane" according to taste, and the true meaning of the title should be decided when a more fundamental formulation of the theory is known.
Matrix theory

In mathematics, amatrix
Matrix most commonly refers to:
* ''The Matrix'' (franchise), an American media franchise
** ''The Matrix'', a 1999 science-fiction action film
** "The Matrix", a fictional setting, a virtual reality environment, within ''The Matrix'' (franchis ...

is a rectangular array of numbers or other data. In physics, a matrix model is a particular kind of physical theory whose mathematical formulation involves the notion of a matrix in an important way. A matrix model describes the behavior of a set of matrices within the framework of quantum mechanics.
One important example of a matrix model is the BFSS matrix model proposed by Tom Banks, Willy Fischler, Stephen Shenker, and Leonard Susskind
Leonard Susskind (; born June 16, 1940)his 60th birthday was celebrated with a special symposium at Stanford University.in Geoffrey West's introduction, he gives Suskind's current age as 74 and says his birthday was recent. is an American physicis ...

in 1997. This theory describes the behavior of a set of nine large matrices. In their original paper, these authors showed, among other things, that the low energy limit of this matrix model is described by eleven-dimensional supergravity. These calculations led them to propose that the BFSS matrix model is exactly equivalent to M-theory. The BFSS matrix model can therefore be used as a prototype for a correct formulation of M-theory and a tool for investigating the properties of M-theory in a relatively simple setting.
The development of the matrix model formulation of M-theory has led physicists to consider various connections between string theory and a branch of mathematics called noncommutative geometry. This subject is a generalization of ordinary geometry in which mathematicians define new geometric notions using tools from noncommutative algebra. In a paper from 1998, Alain Connes, Michael R. Douglas
Michael R. Douglas (born November 19, 1961) is an American theoretical physicist, best known for his work in string theory and mathematical physics.
Biography
Douglas was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the son of Nancy and Ronald G. Douglas, a ...

, and Albert Schwarz showed that some aspects of matrix models and M-theory are described by a noncommutative quantum field theory, a special kind of physical theory in which spacetime is described mathematically using noncommutative geometry. This established a link between matrix models and M-theory on the one hand, and noncommutative geometry on the other hand. It quickly led to the discovery of other important links between noncommutative geometry and various physical theories.
Black holes

In general relativity, a black hole is defined as a region of spacetime in which the gravitational field is so strong that no particle or radiation can escape. In the currently accepted models of stellar evolution, black holes are thought to arise when massive stars undergo gravitational collapse, and manygalaxies
A galaxy is a system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, dark matter, bound together by gravity. The word is derived from the Greek ' (), literally 'milky', a reference to the Milky Way galaxy that contains the Solar Sys ...

are thought to contain supermassive black hole
A supermassive black hole (SMBH or sometimes SBH) is the largest type of black hole, with its mass being on the order of hundreds of thousands, or millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun (). Black holes are a class of astronomical o ...

s at their centers. Black holes are also important for theoretical reasons, as they present profound challenges for theorists attempting to understand the quantum aspects of gravity. String theory has proved to be an important tool for investigating the theoretical properties of black holes because it provides a framework in which theorists can study their thermodynamics.
Bekenstein–Hawking formula

In the branch of physics called statistical mechanics, entropy is a measure of the randomness or disorder of a physical system. This concept was studied in the 1870s by the Austrian physicistLudwig Boltzmann
Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann (; 20 February 1844 – 5 September 1906) was an Austrian physicist and philosopher. His greatest achievements were the development of statistical mechanics, and the statistical explanation of the second law of thermod ...

, who showed that the thermodynamic properties of a gas could be derived from the combined properties of its many constituent molecules. Boltzmann argued that by averaging the behaviors of all the different molecules in a gas, one can understand macroscopic properties such as volume, temperature, and pressure. In addition, this perspective led him to give a precise definition of entropy as the natural logarithm of the number of different states of the molecules (also called ''microstates'') that give rise to the same macroscopic features.
In the twentieth century, physicists began to apply the same concepts to black holes. In most systems such as gases, the entropy scales with the volume. In the 1970s, the physicist Jacob Bekenstein suggested that the entropy of a black hole is instead proportional to the ''surface area'' of its event horizon, the boundary beyond which matter and radiation are lost to its gravitational attraction. When combined with ideas of the physicist Stephen Hawking, Bekenstein's work yielded a precise formula for the entropy of a black hole. The Bekenstein–Hawking formula
In physics, black hole thermodynamics is the area of study that seeks to reconcile the laws of thermodynamics with the existence of black hole event horizons. As the study of the statistical mechanics of black-body radiation led to the development ...

expresses the entropy as
:$S=\; \backslash frac$
where is the speed of light, is Boltzmann's constant
The Boltzmann constant ( or ) is the proportionality factor that relates the average relative kinetic energy of particles in a gas with the thermodynamic temperature of the gas. It occurs in the definitions of the kelvin and the gas consta ...

, is the reduced Planck constant
The Planck constant, or Planck's constant, is a fundamental physical constant of foundational importance in quantum mechanics. The constant gives the relationship between the energy of a photon and its frequency, and by the mass-energy equivalen ...

, is Newton's constant, and is the surface area of the event horizon.
Like any physical system, a black hole has an entropy defined in terms of the number of different microstates that lead to the same macroscopic features. The Bekenstein–Hawking entropy formula gives the expected value of the entropy of a black hole, but by the 1990s, physicists still lacked a derivation of this formula by counting microstates in a theory of quantum gravity. Finding such a derivation of this formula was considered an important test of the viability of any theory of quantum gravity such as string theory.
Derivation within string theory

In a paper from 1996, Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa showed how to derive the Beckenstein–Hawking formula for certain black holes in string theory. Their calculation was based on the observation that D-branes—which look like fluctuating membranes when they are weakly interacting—become dense, massive objects with event horizons when the interactions are strong. In other words, a system of strongly interacting D-branes in string theory is indistinguishable from a black hole. Strominger and Vafa analyzed such D-brane systems and calculated the number of different ways of placing D-branes in spacetime so that their combined mass and charge is equal to a given mass and charge for the resulting black hole. Their calculation reproduced the Bekenstein–Hawking formula exactly, including the factor of . Subsequent work by Strominger, Vafa, and others refined the original calculations and gave the precise values of the "quantum corrections" needed to describe very small black holes. The black holes that Strominger and Vafa considered in their original work were quite different from real astrophysical black holes. One difference was that Strominger and Vafa considered onlyextremal black hole
In theoretical physics, an extremal black hole is a black hole with the minimum possible mass that is compatible with its charge and angular momentum.
The concept of an extremal black hole is theoretical and none have thusfar been observed in nat ...

s in order to make the calculation tractable. These are defined as black holes with the lowest possible mass compatible with a given charge. Strominger and Vafa also restricted attention to black holes in five-dimensional spacetime with unphysical supersymmetry.
Although it was originally developed in this very particular and physically unrealistic context in string theory, the entropy calculation of Strominger and Vafa has led to a qualitative understanding of how black hole entropy can be accounted for in any theory of quantum gravity. Indeed, in 1998, Strominger argued that the original result could be generalized to an arbitrary consistent theory of quantum gravity without relying on strings or supersymmetry. In collaboration with several other authors in 2010, he showed that some results on black hole entropy could be extended to non-extremal astrophysical black holes.
AdS/CFT correspondence

One approach to formulating string theory and studying its properties is provided by the anti-de Sitter/conformal field theory (AdS/CFT) correspondence. This is a theoretical result which implies that string theory is in some cases equivalent to a quantum field theory. In addition to providing insights into the mathematical structure of string theory, the AdS/CFT correspondence has shed light on many aspects of quantum field theory in regimes where traditional calculational techniques are ineffective. The AdS/CFT correspondence was first proposed byJuan Maldacena
Juan Martín Maldacena (born September 10, 1968) is an Argentine theoretical physicist and the Carl P. Feinberg Professor in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He has made significant contributions to ...

in late 1997. Important aspects of the correspondence were elaborated in articles by Steven Gubser, Igor Klebanov
Igor R. Klebanov (russian: И́горь Ромáнович Клеба́нов; uk, Ігор Романович Клєбанов; born March 29, 1962) is an American theoretical physicist. Since 1989, he has been a faculty member at Princeton U ...

, and Alexander Markovich Polyakov, and by Edward Witten. By 2010, Maldacena's article had over 7000 citations, becoming the most highly cited article in the field of high energy physics.
Overview of the correspondence

In the AdS/CFT correspondence, the geometry of spacetime is described in terms of a certain vacuum solution ofEinstein's equation
In the general theory of relativity, the Einstein field equations (EFE; also known as Einstein's equations) relate the geometry of spacetime to the distribution of matter within it.
The equations were published by Einstein in 1915 in the form ...

called anti-de Sitter space. In very elementary terms, anti-de Sitter space is a mathematical model of spacetime in which the notion of distance between points (the metric
Metric or metrical may refer to:
* Metric system, an internationally adopted decimal system of measurement
* An adjective indicating relation to measurement in general, or a noun describing a specific type of measurement
Mathematics
In mathem ...

) is different from the notion of distance in ordinary Euclidean geometry. It is closely related to hyperbolic space
In mathematics, hyperbolic space of dimension n is the unique simply connected, n-dimensional Riemannian manifold of constant sectional curvature equal to -1. It is homogeneous, and satisfies the stronger property of being a symmetric space. The ...

, which can be viewed as a disk as illustrated on the left. Maldacena 2005, p. 60 This image shows a tessellation
A tessellation or tiling is the covering of a surface, often a plane, using one or more geometric shapes, called ''tiles'', with no overlaps and no gaps. In mathematics, tessellation can be generalized to higher dimensions and a variety o ...

of a disk by triangles and squares. One can define the distance between points of this disk in such a way that all the triangles and squares are the same size and the circular outer boundary is infinitely far from any point in the interior. Maldacena 2005, p. 61
One can imagine a stack of hyperbolic disks where each disk represents the state of the universe at a given time. The resulting geometric object is three-dimensional anti-de Sitter space. It looks like a solid cylinder
A cylinder (from ) has traditionally been a three-dimensional solid, one of the most basic of curvilinear geometric shapes. In elementary geometry, it is considered a prism with a circle as its base.
A cylinder may also be defined as an inf ...

in which any cross section is a copy of the hyperbolic disk. Time runs along the vertical direction in this picture. The surface of this cylinder plays an important role in the AdS/CFT correspondence. As with the hyperbolic plane, anti-de Sitter space is curved in such a way that any point in the interior is actually infinitely far from this boundary surface.
This construction describes a hypothetical universe with only two space dimensions and one time dimension, but it can be generalized to any number of dimensions. Indeed, hyperbolic space can have more than two dimensions and one can "stack up" copies of hyperbolic space to get higher-dimensional models of anti-de Sitter space.
An important feature of anti-de Sitter space is its boundary (which looks like a cylinder in the case of three-dimensional anti-de Sitter space). One property of this boundary is that, within a small region on the surface around any given point, it looks just like Minkowski space
In mathematical physics, Minkowski space (or Minkowski spacetime) () is a combination of three-dimensional Euclidean space and time into a four-dimensional manifold where the spacetime interval between any two events is independent of the in ...

, the model of spacetime used in nongravitational physics. One can therefore consider an auxiliary theory in which "spacetime" is given by the boundary of anti-de Sitter space. This observation is the starting point for AdS/CFT correspondence, which states that the boundary of anti-de Sitter space can be regarded as the "spacetime" for a quantum field theory. The claim is that this quantum field theory is equivalent to a gravitational theory, such as string theory, in the bulk anti-de Sitter space in the sense that there is a "dictionary" for translating entities and calculations in one theory into their counterparts in the other theory. For example, a single particle in the gravitational theory might correspond to some collection of particles in the boundary theory. In addition, the predictions in the two theories are quantitatively identical so that if two particles have a 40 percent chance of colliding in the gravitational theory, then the corresponding collections in the boundary theory would also have a 40 percent chance of colliding.
Applications to quantum gravity

The discovery of the AdS/CFT correspondence was a major advance in physicists' understanding of string theory and quantum gravity. One reason for this is that the correspondence provides a formulation of string theory in terms of quantum field theory, which is well understood by comparison. Another reason is that it provides a general framework in which physicists can study and attempt to resolve the paradoxes of black holes. In 1975, Stephen Hawking published a calculation which suggested that black holes are not completely black but emit a dim radiation due to quantum effects near the event horizon. At first, Hawking's result posed a problem for theorists because it suggested that black holes destroy information. More precisely, Hawking's calculation seemed to conflict with one of the basic postulates of quantum mechanics, which states that physical systems evolve in time according to theSchrödinger equation
The Schrödinger equation is a linear partial differential equation that governs the wave function of a quantum-mechanical system. It is a key result in quantum mechanics, and its discovery was a significant landmark in the development of th ...

. This property is usually referred to as unitarity of time evolution. The apparent contradiction between Hawking's calculation and the unitarity postulate of quantum mechanics came to be known as the black hole information paradox
The black hole information paradox is a puzzle that appears when the predictions of quantum mechanics and general relativity are combined. The theory of general relativity predicts the existence of black holes that are regions of spacetime fro ...

.
The AdS/CFT correspondence resolves the black hole information paradox, at least to some extent, because it shows how a black hole can evolve in a manner consistent with quantum mechanics in some contexts. Indeed, one can consider black holes in the context of the AdS/CFT correspondence, and any such black hole corresponds to a configuration of particles on the boundary of anti-de Sitter space. These particles obey the usual rules of quantum mechanics and in particular evolve in a unitary fashion, so the black hole must also evolve in a unitary fashion, respecting the principles of quantum mechanics. In 2005, Hawking announced that the paradox had been settled in favor of information conservation by the AdS/CFT correspondence, and he suggested a concrete mechanism by which black holes might preserve information.
Applications to nuclear physics

In addition to its applications to theoretical problems in quantum gravity, the AdS/CFT correspondence has been applied to a variety of problems in quantum field theory. One physical system that has been studied using the AdS/CFT correspondence is thequark–gluon plasma
Quark–gluon plasma (QGP) or quark soup is an interacting localized assembly of quarks and gluons at thermal (local kinetic) and (close to) chemical (abundance) equilibrium. The word ''plasma'' signals that free color charges are allowed. In ...

, an exotic state of matter
In physics, a state of matter is one of the distinct forms in which matter can exist. Four states of matter are observable in everyday life: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. Many intermediate states are known to exist, such as liquid crystal ...

produced in particle accelerators. This state of matter arises for brief instants when heavy ions such as gold or lead nuclei are collided at high energies. Such collisions cause the quarks that make up atomic nuclei to deconfine at temperatures of approximately two trillion
''Trillion'' is a number with two distinct definitions:
*1,000,000,000,000, i.e. one million million, or (ten to the twelfth power), as defined on the short scale. This is now the meaning in both American and British English.
* 1,000,000,000, ...

kelvin, conditions similar to those present at around seconds after the Big Bang.
The physics of the quark–gluon plasma is governed by a theory called quantum chromodynamics, but this theory is mathematically intractable in problems involving the quark–gluon plasma. In an article appearing in 2005, Đàm Thanh Sơn and his collaborators showed that the AdS/CFT correspondence could be used to understand some aspects of the quark-gluon plasma by describing it in the language of string theory. By applying the AdS/CFT correspondence, Sơn and his collaborators were able to describe the quark-gluon plasma in terms of black holes in five-dimensional spacetime. The calculation showed that the ratio of two quantities associated with the quark-gluon plasma, the shear viscosity and volume density of entropy, should be approximately equal to a certain universal constant. In 2008, the predicted value of this ratio for the quark-gluon plasma was confirmed at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider
The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC ) is the first and one of only two operating heavy-ion colliders, and the only spin-polarized proton collider ever built. Located at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in Upton, New York, and used by a ...

at Brookhaven National Laboratory
Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory located in Upton, Long Island, and was formally established in 1947 at the site of Camp Upton, a former U.S. Army base and Japanese internment c ...

.
Applications to condensed matter physics

The AdS/CFT correspondence has also been used to study aspects of condensed matter physics. Over the decades, experimental condensed matter physicists have discovered a number of exotic states of matter, including superconductors and superfluids. These states are described using the formalism of quantum field theory, but some phenomena are difficult to explain using standard field theoretic techniques. Some condensed matter theorists includingSubir Sachdev
Subir Sachdev is Herchel Smith Professor of Physics at Harvard University specializing in condensed matter. He was elected to the U.S. National
Academy of Sciences in 2014, and received the Lars Onsager Prize from the American Physical Society ...

hope that the AdS/CFT correspondence will make it possible to describe these systems in the language of string theory and learn more about their behavior.
So far some success has been achieved in using string theory methods to describe the transition of a superfluid to an insulator. A superfluid is a system of electrically neutral
Electric charge is the physical property of matter that causes charged matter to experience a force when placed in an electromagnetic field. Electric charge can be ''positive'' or ''negative'' (commonly carried by protons and electrons respect ...

atoms
Every atom is composed of a nucleus and one or more electrons bound to the nucleus. The nucleus is made of one or more protons and a number of neutrons. Only the most common variety of hydrogen has no neutrons.
Every solid, liquid, ga ...

that flows without any friction. Such systems are often produced in the laboratory using liquid helium, but recently experimentalists have developed new ways of producing artificial superfluids by pouring trillions of cold atoms into a lattice of criss-crossing lasers. These atoms initially behave as a superfluid, but as experimentalists increase the intensity of the lasers, they become less mobile and then suddenly transition to an insulating state. During the transition, the atoms behave in an unusual way. For example, the atoms slow to a halt at a rate that depends on the temperature and on Planck's constant, the fundamental parameter of quantum mechanics, which does not enter into the description of the other phases. This behavior has recently been understood by considering a dual description where properties of the fluid are described in terms of a higher dimensional black hole.
Phenomenology

In addition to being an idea of considerable theoretical interest, string theory provides a framework for constructing models of real-world physics that combine general relativity and particle physics.Phenomenology
Phenomenology may refer to:
Art
* Phenomenology (architecture), based on the experience of building materials and their sensory properties
Philosophy
* Phenomenology (philosophy), a branch of philosophy which studies subjective experiences and a ...

is the branch of theoretical physics in which physicists construct realistic models of nature from more abstract theoretical ideas. String phenomenology is the part of string theory that attempts to construct realistic or semi-realistic models based on string theory.
Partly because of theoretical and mathematical difficulties and partly because of the extremely high energies needed to test these theories experimentally, there is so far no experimental evidence that would unambiguously point to any of these models being a correct fundamental description of nature. This has led some in the community to criticize these approaches to unification and question the value of continued research on these problems.
Particle physics

The currently accepted theory describing elementary particles and their interactions is known as the standard model of particle physics. This theory provides a unified description of three of the fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Despite its remarkable success in explaining a wide range of physical phenomena, the standard model cannot be a complete description of reality. This is because the standard model fails to incorporate the force of gravity and because of problems such as thehierarchy problem
In theoretical physics, the hierarchy problem is the problem concerning the large discrepancy between aspects of the weak force and gravity. There is no scientific consensus on why, for example, the weak force is 1024 times stronger than gravit ...

and the inability to explain the structure of fermion masses or dark matter.
String theory has been used to construct a variety of models of particle physics going beyond the standard model. Typically, such models are based on the idea of compactification. Starting with the ten- or eleven-dimensional spacetime of string or M-theory, physicists postulate a shape for the extra dimensions. By choosing this shape appropriately, they can construct models roughly similar to the standard model of particle physics, together with additional undiscovered particles. One popular way of deriving realistic physics from string theory is to start with the heterotic theory in ten dimensions and assume that the six extra dimensions of spacetime are shaped like a six-dimensional Calabi–Yau manifold. Such compactifications offer many ways of extracting realistic physics from string theory. Other similar methods can be used to construct realistic or semi-realistic models of our four-dimensional world based on M-theory.
Cosmology

The Big Bang theory is the prevailingcosmological
Cosmology () is a branch of physics and metaphysics dealing with the nature of the universe. The term ''cosmology'' was first used in English in 1656 in Thomas Blount's ''Glossographia'', and in 1731 taken up in Latin by German philosophe ...

model for the universe from the earliest known periods through its subsequent large-scale evolution. Despite its success in explaining many observed features of the universe including galactic redshift
In physics, a redshift is an increase in the wavelength, and corresponding decrease in the frequency and photon energy, of electromagnetic radiation (such as light). The opposite change, a decrease in wavelength and simultaneous increase i ...

s, the relative abundance of light elements such as hydrogen and helium, and the existence of a cosmic microwave background, there are several questions that remain unanswered. For example, the standard Big Bang model does not explain why the universe appears to be the same in all directions, why it appears flat on very large distance scales, or why certain hypothesized particles such as magnetic monopoles are not observed in experiments.
Currently, the leading candidate for a theory going beyond the Big Bang is the theory of cosmic inflation. Developed by Alan Guth
Alan Harvey Guth (; born February 27, 1947) is an American theoretical physicist and cosmologist. Guth has researched elementary particle theory (and how particle theory is applicable to the early universe). He is Victor Weisskopf Professor o ...

and others in the 1980s, inflation postulates a period of extremely rapid accelerated expansion of the universe prior to the expansion described by the standard Big Bang theory. The theory of cosmic inflation preserves the successes of the Big Bang while providing a natural explanation for some of the mysterious features of the universe. The theory has also received striking support from observations of the cosmic microwave background, the radiation that has filled the sky since around 380,000 years after the Big Bang.
In the theory of inflation, the rapid initial expansion of the universe is caused by a hypothetical particle called the inflaton
The inflaton field is a hypothetical scalar field which is conjectured to have driven cosmic inflation in the very early universe.
The field, originally postulated by Alan Guth, provides a mechanism by which a period of rapid expansion from 10& ...

. The exact properties of this particle are not fixed by the theory but should ultimately be derived from a more fundamental theory such as string theory. Indeed, there have been a number of attempts to identify an inflaton within the spectrum of particles described by string theory and to study inflation using string theory. While these approaches might eventually find support in observational data such as measurements of the cosmic microwave background, the application of string theory to cosmology is still in its early stages.
Connections to mathematics

In addition to influencing research in theoretical physics, string theory has stimulated a number of major developments inpure mathematics
Pure mathematics is the study of mathematical concepts independently of any application outside mathematics. These concepts may originate in real-world concerns, and the results obtained may later turn out to be useful for practical applications ...

. Like many developing ideas in theoretical physics, string theory does not at present have a mathematically rigorous formulation in which all of its concepts can be defined precisely. As a result, physicists who study string theory are often guided by physical intuition to conjecture relationships between the seemingly different mathematical structures that are used to formalize different parts of the theory. These conjectures are later proved by mathematicians, and in this way, string theory serves as a source of new ideas in pure mathematics.
Mirror symmetry

After Calabi–Yau manifolds had entered physics as a way to compactify extra dimensions in string theory, many physicists began studying these manifolds. In the late 1980s, several physicists noticed that given such a compactification of string theory, it is not possible to reconstruct uniquely a corresponding Calabi–Yau manifold. Instead, two different versions of string theory, type IIA and type IIB, can be compactified on completely different Calabi–Yau manifolds giving rise to the same physics. In this situation, the manifolds are called mirror manifolds, and the relationship between the two physical theories is called mirror symmetry. Regardless of whether Calabi–Yau compactifications of string theory provide a correct description of nature, the existence of the mirror duality between different string theories has significant mathematical consequences. The Calabi–Yau manifolds used in string theory are of interest in pure mathematics, and mirror symmetry allows mathematicians to solve problems inenumerative geometry
In mathematics, enumerative geometry is the branch of algebraic geometry concerned with counting numbers of solutions to geometric questions, mainly by means of intersection theory.
History
The problem of Apollonius is one of the earliest exam ...

, a branch of mathematics concerned with counting the numbers of solutions to geometric questions.
Enumerative geometry studies a class of geometric objects called algebraic varieties
Algebraic varieties are the central objects of study in algebraic geometry, a sub-field of mathematics. Classically, an algebraic variety is defined as the set of solutions of a system of polynomial equations over the real or complex numbers. ...

which are defined by the vanishing of polynomials. For example, the Clebsch cubic
In mathematics, the Clebsch diagonal cubic surface, or Klein's icosahedral cubic surface, is a non-singular cubic surface, studied by and , all of whose 27 exceptional lines
can be defined over the real numbers. The term Klein's icosahedral sur ...

illustrated on the right is an algebraic variety defined using a certain polynomial of degree three in four variables. A celebrated result of nineteenth-century mathematicians Arthur Cayley
Arthur Cayley (; 16 August 1821 – 26 January 1895) was a prolific British mathematician who worked mostly on algebra. He helped found the modern British school of pure mathematics.
As a child, Cayley enjoyed solving complex maths problem ...

and George Salmon
George Salmon FBA FRS FRSE (25 September 1819 – 22 January 1904) was a distinguished and influential Irish mathematician and Anglican theologian. After working in algebraic geometry for two decades, Salmon devoted the last forty years of his ...

states that there are exactly 27 straight lines that lie entirely on such a surface.
Generalizing this problem, one can ask how many lines can be drawn on a quintic Calabi–Yau manifold, such as the one illustrated above, which is defined by a polynomial of degree five. This problem was solved by the nineteenth-century German mathematician Hermann Schubert, who found that there are exactly 2,875 such lines. In 1986, geometer Sheldon Katz proved that the number of curves, such as circles, that are defined by polynomials of degree two and lie entirely in the quintic is 609,250.
By the year 1991, most of the classical problems of enumerative geometry had been solved and interest in enumerative geometry had begun to diminish. Yau and Nadis, p. 169 The field was reinvigorated in May 1991 when physicists Philip Candelas, Xenia de la Ossa, Paul Green, and Linda Parks showed that mirror symmetry could be used to translate difficult mathematical questions about one Calabi–Yau manifold into easier questions about its mirror. In particular, they used mirror symmetry to show that a six-dimensional Calabi–Yau manifold can contain exactly 317,206,375 curves of degree three. In addition to counting degree-three curves, Candelas and his collaborators obtained a number of more general results for counting rational curves which went far beyond the results obtained by mathematicians.
Originally, these results of Candelas were justified on physical grounds. However, mathematicians generally prefer rigorous proofs that do not require an appeal to physical intuition. Inspired by physicists' work on mirror symmetry, mathematicians have therefore constructed their own arguments proving the enumerative predictions of mirror symmetry. Today mirror symmetry is an active area of research in mathematics, and mathematicians are working to develop a more complete mathematical understanding of mirror symmetry based on physicists' intuition. Major approaches to mirror symmetry include the homological mirror symmetry program of Maxim Kontsevich and the SYZ conjecture
The SYZ conjecture is an attempt to understand the mirror symmetry conjecture, an issue in theoretical physics and mathematics. The original conjecture was proposed in a paper by Strominger, Yau, and Zaslow, entitled "Mirror Symmetry is ''T'' ...

of Andrew Strominger, Shing-Tung Yau, and Eric Zaslow
Eric Zaslow is an American mathematical physicist at Northwestern University.
Biography
Zaslow attended Harvard University, earning his Ph.D. in physics in 1995,
with thesis "Kinks, twists, and folds : exploring the geometric musculature of qua ...

.
Monstrous moonshine

Group theory
In abstract algebra, group theory studies the algebraic structures known as groups.
The concept of a group is central to abstract algebra: other well-known algebraic structures, such as rings, fields, and vector spaces, can all be seen as ...

is the branch of mathematics that studies the concept of symmetry. For example, one can consider a geometric shape such as an equilateral triangle. There are various operations that one can perform on this triangle without changing its shape. One can rotate it through 120°, 240°, or 360°, or one can reflect in any of the lines labeled , , or in the picture. Each of these operations is called a ''symmetry'', and the collection of these symmetries satisfies certain technical properties making it into what mathematicians call a group
A group is a number of persons or things that are located, gathered, or classed together.
Groups of people
* Cultural group, a group whose members share the same cultural identity
* Ethnic group, a group whose members share the same ethnic id ...

. In this particular example, the group is known as the dihedral group
In mathematics, a dihedral group is the group of symmetries of a regular polygon, which includes rotations and reflections. Dihedral groups are among the simplest examples of finite groups, and they play an important role in group theory, ...

of order 6 because it has six elements. A general group may describe finitely many or infinitely many symmetries; if there are only finitely many symmetries, it is called a finite group
Finite is the opposite of infinite. It may refer to:
* Finite number (disambiguation)
* Finite set, a set whose cardinality (number of elements) is some natural number
* Finite verb, a verb form that has a subject, usually being inflected or marke ...

.
Mathematicians often strive for a classification Classification is a process related to categorization, the process in which ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated and understood.
Classification is the grouping of related facts into classes.
It may also refer to:
Business, organizat ...

(or list) of all mathematical objects of a given type. It is generally believed that finite groups are too diverse to admit a useful classification. A more modest but still challenging problem is to classify all finite ''simple'' groups. These are finite groups that may be used as building blocks for constructing arbitrary finite groups in the same way that prime numbers can be used to construct arbitrary whole numbers by taking products. One of the major achievements of contemporary group theory is the classification of finite simple groups
In mathematics, the classification of the finite simple groups is a result of group theory stating that every finite simple group is either cyclic, or alternating, or it belongs to a broad infinite class called the groups of Lie type, or else ...

, a mathematical theorem that provides a list of all possible finite simple groups.
This classification theorem identifies several infinite families of groups as well as 26 additional groups which do not fit into any family. The latter groups are called the "sporadic" groups, and each one owes its existence to a remarkable combination of circumstances. The largest sporadic group, the so-called monster group, has over elements, more than a thousand times the number of atoms in the Earth.
A seemingly unrelated construction is the -function of number theory. This object belongs to a special class of functions called modular functions, whose graphs form a certain kind of repeating pattern. Although this function appears in a branch of mathematics that seems very different from the theory of finite groups, the two subjects turn out to be intimately related. In the late 1970s, mathematicians John McKay and John Thompson noticed that certain numbers arising in the analysis of the monster group (namely, the dimensions of its irreducible representation
In mathematics, specifically in the representation theory of groups and algebras, an irreducible representation (\rho, V) or irrep of an algebraic structure A is a nonzero representation that has no proper nontrivial subrepresentation (\rho, _W, ...

s) are related to numbers that appear in a formula for the -function (namely, the coefficients of its Fourier series). This relationship was further developed by John Horton Conway and Simon Norton who called it monstrous moonshine because it seemed so far fetched.
In 1992, Richard Borcherds constructed a bridge between the theory of modular functions and finite groups and, in the process, explained the observations of McKay and Thompson. Borcherds' work used ideas from string theory in an essential way, extending earlier results of Igor Frenkel
Igor Borisovich Frenkel (russian: Игорь Борисович Френкель; born April 22, 1952) is a Russian-American mathematician at Yale University working in representation theory and mathematical physics.
Frenkel emigrated to the U ...

, James Lepowsky, and Arne Meurman, who had realized the monster group as the symmetries of a particular version of string theory. In 1998, Borcherds was awarded the Fields medal for his work.
Since the 1990s, the connection between string theory and moonshine has led to further results in mathematics and physics. In 2010, physicists Tohru Eguchi
Tohru Eguchi (江口 徹, February 2, 1948 – January 30, 2019) was a Japanese theoretical physicist.
Life and career
Tohru Eguchi was a professor at the University of Tokyo, and then at the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics at Kyoto Un ...

, Hirosi Ooguri, and Yuji Tachikawa discovered connections between a different sporadic group, the Mathieu group , and a certain version of string theory. Miranda Cheng, John Duncan, and Jeffrey A. Harvey proposed a generalization of this moonshine phenomenon called umbral moonshine, and their conjecture was proved mathematically by Duncan, Michael Griffin, and Ken Ono. Witten has also speculated that the version of string theory appearing in monstrous moonshine might be related to a certain simplified model of gravity in three spacetime dimensions.
History

Early results

Some of the structures reintroduced by string theory arose for the first time much earlier as part of the program of classical unification started byAlbert Einstein
Albert Einstein ( ; ; 14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest and most influential physicists of all time. Einstein is best known for developing the theory ...

. The first person to add a fifth dimension to a theory of gravity was Gunnar Nordström in 1914, who noted that gravity in five dimensions describes both gravity and electromagnetism in four. Nordström attempted to unify electromagnetism with his theory of gravitation, which was however superseded by Einstein's general relativity in 1919. Thereafter, German mathematician Theodor Kaluza combined the fifth dimension with general relativity, and only Kaluza is usually credited with the idea. In 1926, the Swedish physicist Oskar Klein
Oskar Benjamin Klein (; 15 September 1894 – 5 February 1977) was a Swedish theoretical physics, theoretical physicist.
Biography
Klein was born in Danderyd Municipality, Danderyd outside Stockholm, son of the chief rabbi of Stockholm, Gottli ...

gave a physical interpretation of the unobservable extra dimension—it is wrapped into a small circle. Einstein introduced a non-symmetric metric tensor, while much later Brans and Dicke added a scalar component to gravity. These ideas would be revived within string theory, where they are demanded by consistency conditions.
String theory was originally developed during the late 1960s and early 1970s as a never completely successful theory of hadron
In particle physics, a hadron (; grc, ἁδρός, hadrós; "stout, thick") is a composite subatomic particle made of two or more quarks held together by the strong interaction. They are analogous to molecules that are held together by the ...

s, the subatomic particle
In physical sciences, a subatomic particle is a particle that composes an atom. According to the Standard Model of particle physics, a subatomic particle can be either a composite particle, which is composed of other particles (for example, a pr ...

s like the proton and neutron that feel the strong interaction. In the 1960s, Geoffrey Chew and Steven Frautschi
Steven C. Frautschi (; born December 6, 1933) is an American theoretical physicist, currently professor of physics emeritus at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). He is known principally for his contributions to the bootstrap theory ...

discovered that the meson
In particle physics, a meson ( or ) is a type of hadronic subatomic particle composed of an equal number of quarks and antiquarks, usually one of each, bound together by the strong interaction. Because mesons are composed of quark subparticle ...

s make families called Regge trajectories with masses related to spins in a way that was later understood by Yoichiro Nambu, Holger Bech Nielsen and Leonard Susskind
Leonard Susskind (; born June 16, 1940)his 60th birthday was celebrated with a special symposium at Stanford University.in Geoffrey West's introduction, he gives Suskind's current age as 74 and says his birthday was recent. is an American physicis ...

to be the relationship expected from rotating strings. Chew advocated making a theory for the interactions of these trajectories that did not presume that they were composed of any fundamental particles, but would construct their interactions from self-consistency conditions on the S-matrix
In physics, the ''S''-matrix or scattering matrix relates the initial state and the final state of a physical system undergoing a scattering process. It is used in quantum mechanics, scattering theory and quantum field theory (QFT).
More forma ...

. The S-matrix approach was started by Werner Heisenberg
Werner Karl Heisenberg () (5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) was a German theoretical physicist and one of the main pioneers of the theory of quantum mechanics. He published his work in 1925 in a breakthrough paper. In the subsequent serie ...

in the 1940s as a way of constructing a theory that did not rely on the local notions of space and time, which Heisenberg believed break down at the nuclear scale. While the scale was off by many orders of magnitude, the approach he advocated was ideally suited for a theory of quantum gravity.
Working with experimental data, R. Dolen, D. Horn and C. Schmid developed some sum rules for hadron exchange. When a particle and antiparticle
In particle physics, every type of particle is associated with an antiparticle with the same mass but with opposite physical charges (such as electric charge). For example, the antiparticle of the electron is the positron (also known as an antie ...

scatter, virtual particles can be exchanged in two qualitatively different ways. In the s-channel, the two particles annihilate to make temporary intermediate states that fall apart into the final state particles. In the t-channel, the particles exchange intermediate states by emission and absorption. In field theory, the two contributions add together, one giving a continuous background contribution, the other giving peaks at certain energies. In the data, it was clear that the peaks were stealing from the background—the authors interpreted this as saying that the t-channel contribution was dual to the s-channel one, meaning both described the whole amplitude and included the other.
The result was widely advertised by Murray Gell-Mann, leading Gabriele Veneziano to construct a scattering amplitude
In quantum physics, the scattering amplitude is the probability amplitude of the outgoing spherical wave relative to the incoming plane wave in a stationary-state scattering process.gamma function
In mathematics, the gamma function (represented by , the capital letter gamma from the Greek alphabet) is one commonly used extension of the factorial function to complex numbers. The gamma function is defined for all complex numbers exce ...

— which was widely used in Regge theory. By manipulating combinations of gamma functions, Veneziano was able to find a consistent scattering amplitude with poles on straight lines, with mostly positive residues, which obeyed duality and had the appropriate Regge scaling at high energy. The amplitude could fit near-beam scattering data as well as other Regge type fits and had a suggestive integral representation that could be used for generalization.
Over the next years, hundreds of physicists worked to complete the bootstrap program for this model, with many surprises. Veneziano himself discovered that for the scattering amplitude to describe the scattering of a particle that appears in the theory, an obvious self-consistency condition, the lightest particle must be a tachyon. Miguel Virasoro and Joel Shapiro found a different amplitude now understood to be that of closed strings, while Ziro Koba and Holger Nielsen
Holger Louis Nielsen (18 December 1866 in Copenhagen – 26 January 1955 in Hellerup) was a Danish fencer, sport shooter, and athlete. He competed at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens. He is probably best known for drawing up the first ...

generalized Veneziano's integral representation to multiparticle scattering. Veneziano and Sergio Fubini introduced an operator formalism for computing the scattering amplitudes that was a forerunner of world-sheet conformal theory, while Virasoro understood how to remove the poles with wrong-sign residues using a constraint on the states. Claud Lovelace
Claud Lovelace (16 January 1934 – 7 September 2012) was a theoretical physicist noted for his contributions to string theory, specifically, the idea that strings did not have to be restricted to the four dimensions of spacetime.
A study in 2009 ...

calculated a loop amplitude, and noted that there is an inconsistency unless the dimension of the theory is 26. Charles Thorn, Peter Goddard and Richard Brower went on to prove that there are no wrong-sign propagating states in dimensions less than or equal to 26.
In 1969–70, Yoichiro Nambu, Holger Bech Nielsen, and Leonard Susskind
Leonard Susskind (; born June 16, 1940)his 60th birthday was celebrated with a special symposium at Stanford University.in Geoffrey West's introduction, he gives Suskind's current age as 74 and says his birthday was recent. is an American physicis ...

recognized that the theory could be given a description in space and time in terms of strings. The scattering amplitudes were derived systematically from the action principle by Peter Goddard, Jeffrey Goldstone, Claudio Rebbi, and Charles Thorn, giving a space-time picture to the vertex operators introduced by Veneziano and Fubini and a geometrical interpretation to the Virasoro conditions.
In 1971, Pierre Ramond added fermions to the model, which led him to formulate a two-dimensional supersymmetry to cancel the wrong-sign states. John Schwarz and André Neveu added another sector to the fermi theory a short time later. In the fermion theories, the critical dimension was 10. Stanley Mandelstam formulated a world sheet conformal theory for both the bose and fermi case, giving a two-dimensional field theoretic path-integral to generate the operator formalism. Michio Kaku
Michio Kaku (, ; born January 24, 1947) is an American theoretical physicist, futurist, and popularizer of science ( science communicator). He is a professor of theoretical physics in the City College of New York and CUNY Graduate Center. Kaku ...

and Keiji Kikkawa gave a different formulation of the bosonic string, as a string field theory, with infinitely many particle types and with fields taking values not on points, but on loops and curves.
In 1974, Tamiaki Yoneya discovered that all the known string theories included a massless spin-two particle that obeyed the correct Ward identities to be a graviton. John Schwarz and Joël Scherk came to the same conclusion and made the bold leap to suggest that string theory was a theory of gravity, not a theory of hadrons. They reintroduced Kaluza–Klein theory as a way of making sense of the extra dimensions. At the same time, quantum chromodynamics was recognized as the correct theory of hadrons, shifting the attention of physicists and apparently leaving the bootstrap program in the dustbin of history.
String theory eventually made it out of the dustbin, but for the following decade, all work on the theory was completely ignored. Still, the theory continued to develop at a steady pace thanks to the work of a handful of devotees. Ferdinando Gliozzi, Joël Scherk, and David Olive realized in 1977 that the original Ramond and Neveu Schwarz-strings were separately inconsistent and needed to be combined. The resulting theory did not have a tachyon and was proven to have space-time supersymmetry by John Schwarz and Michael Green in 1984. The same year, Alexander Polyakov gave the theory a modern path integral formulation, and went on to develop conformal field theory extensively. In 1979, Daniel Friedan showed that the equations of motions of string theory, which are generalizations of the Einstein equations
In the general theory of relativity, the Einstein field equations (EFE; also known as Einstein's equations) relate the geometry of spacetime to the distribution of matter within it.
The equations were published by Einstein in 1915 in the form ...

of general relativity, emerge from the renormalization group
In theoretical physics, the term renormalization group (RG) refers to a formal apparatus that allows systematic investigation of the changes of a physical system as viewed at different scales. In particle physics, it reflects the changes in t ...

equations for the two-dimensional field theory. Schwarz and Green discovered T-duality, and constructed two superstring theories—IIA and IIB related by T-duality, and type I theories with open strings. The consistency conditions had been so strong, that the entire theory was nearly uniquely determined, with only a few discrete choices.
First superstring revolution

In the early 1980s, Edward Witten discovered that most theories of quantum gravity could not accommodatechiral
Chirality is a property of asymmetry important in several branches of science. The word ''chirality'' is derived from the Greek (''kheir''), "hand", a familiar chiral object.
An object or a system is ''chiral'' if it is distinguishable from i ...

fermions like the neutrino. This led him, in collaboration with Luis Álvarez-Gaumé
Luis Álvarez-Gaumé (born 1955 in Madrid) is a Spanish theoretical physicist who works on string theory and quantum gravity.
Luis Álvarez-Gaumé obtained his PhD in 1981 from Stony Brook University and worked from 1981 to 1984 at Harvard Univer ...

, to study violations of the conservation laws in gravity theories with anomalies, concluding that type I string theories were inconsistent. Green and Schwarz discovered a contribution to the anomaly that Witten and Alvarez-Gaumé had missed, which restricted the gauge group of the type I string theory to be SO(32). In coming to understand this calculation, Edward Witten became convinced that string theory was truly a consistent theory of gravity, and he became a high-profile advocate. Following Witten's lead, between 1984 and 1986, hundreds of physicists started to work in this field, and this is sometimes called the first superstring revolution.
During this period, David Gross, Jeffrey Harvey, Emil Martinec, and Ryan Rohm Ryan Milton Rohm (born 22 December 1957, Gastonia, North Carolina) is an American string theorist. He is one of four physicists known as the Princeton string quartet, and is responsible for the development of heterotic string theory along with Dav ...

discovered heterotic strings. The gauge group of these closed strings was two copies of E8, and either copy could easily and naturally include the standard model. Philip Candelas, Gary Horowitz, Andrew Strominger and Edward Witten found that the Calabi–Yau manifolds are the compactifications that preserve a realistic amount of supersymmetry, while Lance Dixon and others worked out the physical properties of orbifolds, distinctive geometrical singularities allowed in string theory. Cumrun Vafa generalized T-duality from circles to arbitrary manifolds, creating the mathematical field of mirror symmetry. Daniel Friedan, Emil Martinec and Stephen Shenker further developed the covariant quantization of the superstring using conformal field theory techniques. David Gross and Vipul Periwal discovered that string perturbation theory was divergent. Stephen Shenker showed it diverged much faster than in field theory suggesting that new non-perturbative objects were missing.
In the 1990s, Joseph Polchinski discovered that the theory requires higher-dimensional objects, called D-branes and identified these with the black-hole solutions of supergravity. These were understood to be the new objects suggested by the perturbative divergences, and they opened up a new field with rich mathematical structure. It quickly became clear that D-branes and other p-branes, not just strings, formed the matter content of the string theories, and the physical interpretation of the strings and branes was revealed—they are a type of black hole. holographic principle
The holographic principle is an axiom in string theories and a supposed property of quantum gravity that states that the description of a volume of space can be thought of as encoded on a lower-dimensional boundary to the region — such as a ...

of Gerardus 't Hooft into string theory, identifying the long highly excited string states with ordinary thermal black hole states. As suggested by 't Hooft, the fluctuations of the black hole horizon, the world-sheet or world-volume theory, describes not only the degrees of freedom of the black hole, but all nearby objects too.
Second superstring revolution

In 1995, at the annual conference of string theorists at the University of Southern California (USC), Edward Witten gave a speech on string theory that in essence united the five string theories that existed at the time, and giving birth to a new 11-dimensional theory called M-theory. M-theory was also foreshadowed in the work of Paul Townsend at approximately the same time. The flurry of activity that began at this time is sometimes called the second superstring revolution. During this period, Tom Banks, Willy Fischler, Stephen Shenker andholographic principle
The holographic principle is an axiom in string theories and a supposed property of quantum gravity that states that the description of a volume of space can be thought of as encoded on a lower-dimensional boundary to the region — such as a ...

. It is an example of a gauge-gravity duality and is now understood to be a special case of the AdS/CFT correspondence
In theoretical physics, the anti-de Sitter/conformal field theory correspondence, sometimes called Maldacena duality or gauge/gravity duality, is a conjectured relationship between two kinds of physical theories. On one side are anti-de Sitter s ...

. Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa calculated the entropy of certain configurations of D-branes and found agreement with the semi-classical answer for extreme charged black holes. Petr Hořava and Witten found the eleven-dimensional formulation of the heterotic string theories, showing that orbifolds solve the chirality problem. Witten noted that the effective description of the physics of D-branes at low energies is by a supersymmetric gauge theory, and found geometrical interpretations of mathematical structures in gauge theory that he and Nathan Seiberg had earlier discovered in terms of the location of the branes.
In 1997, Juan Maldacena
Juan Martín Maldacena (born September 10, 1968) is an Argentine theoretical physicist and the Carl P. Feinberg Professor in the School of Natural Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. He has made significant contributions to ...

noted that the low energy excitations of a theory near a black hole consist of objects close to the horizon, which for extreme charged black holes looks like an anti-de Sitter space. He noted that in this limit the gauge theory describes the string excitations near the branes. So he hypothesized that string theory on a near-horizon extreme-charged black-hole geometry, an anti-de Sitter space times a sphere with flux, is equally well described by the low-energy limiting gauge theory
In physics, a gauge theory is a type of field theory in which the Lagrangian (and hence the dynamics of the system itself) does not change (is invariant) under local transformations according to certain smooth families of operations (Lie grou ...

, the N = 4 supersymmetric Yang–Mills theory. This hypothesis, which is called the AdS/CFT correspondence
In theoretical physics, the anti-de Sitter/conformal field theory correspondence, sometimes called Maldacena duality or gauge/gravity duality, is a conjectured relationship between two kinds of physical theories. On one side are anti-de Sitter s ...

, was further developed by Steven Gubser, Igor Klebanov
Igor R. Klebanov (russian: И́горь Ромáнович Клеба́нов; uk, Ігор Романович Клєбанов; born March 29, 1962) is an American theoretical physicist. Since 1989, he has been a faculty member at Princeton U ...

and Alexander Polyakov, and by Edward Witten, and it is now well-accepted. It is a concrete realization of the holographic principle
The holographic principle is an axiom in string theories and a supposed property of quantum gravity that states that the description of a volume of space can be thought of as encoded on a lower-dimensional boundary to the region — such as a ...

, which has far-reaching implications for black hole
A black hole is a region of spacetime where gravity is so strong that nothing, including light or other electromagnetic waves, has enough energy to escape it. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass can defo ...

s, locality and information
Information is an abstract concept that refers to that which has the power to inform. At the most fundamental level information pertains to the interpretation of that which may be sensed. Any natural process that is not completely rando ...

in physics, as well as the nature of the gravitational interaction. Through this relationship, string theory has been shown to be related to gauge theories like quantum chromodynamics and this has led to a more quantitative understanding of the behavior of hadron
In particle physics, a hadron (; grc, ἁδρός, hadrós; "stout, thick") is a composite subatomic particle made of two or more quarks held together by the strong interaction. They are analogous to molecules that are held together by the ...

s, bringing string theory back to its roots.
Criticism

Number of solutions

To construct models of particle physics based on string theory, physicists typically begin by specifying a shape for the extra dimensions of spacetime. Each of these different shapes corresponds to a different possible universe, or "vacuum state", with a different collection of particles and forces. String theory as it is currently understood has an enormous number of vacuum states, typically estimated to be around , and these might be sufficiently diverse to accommodate almost any phenomenon that might be observed at low energies. Many critics of string theory have expressed concerns about the large number of possible universes described by string theory. In his book ''Not Even Wrong'', Peter Woit, a lecturer in the mathematics department at Columbia University, has argued that the large number of different physical scenarios renders string theory vacuous as a framework for constructing models of particle physics. According to Woit, Some physicists believe this large number of solutions is actually a virtue because it may allow a natural anthropic explanation of the observed values ofphysical constant
A physical constant, sometimes fundamental physical constant or universal constant, is a physical quantity that is generally believed to be both universal in nature and have constant value in time. It is contrasted with a mathematical constant, ...

s, in particular the small value of the cosmological constant. The anthropic principle
The anthropic principle, also known as the "observation selection effect", is the hypothesis, first proposed in 1957 by Robert Dicke, that there is a restrictive lower bound on how statistically probable our observations of the universe are, beca ...

is the idea that some of the numbers appearing in the laws of physics are not fixed by any fundamental principle but must be compatible with the evolution of intelligent life. In 1987, Steven Weinberg published an article in which he argued that the cosmological constant could not have been too large, or else galaxies
A galaxy is a system of stars, stellar remnants, interstellar gas, dust, dark matter, bound together by gravity. The word is derived from the Greek ' (), literally 'milky', a reference to the Milky Way galaxy that contains the Solar Sys ...

and intelligent life would not have been able to develop. Weinberg suggested that there might be a huge number of possible consistent universes, each with a different value of the cosmological constant, and observations indicate a small value of the cosmological constant only because humans happen to live in a universe that has allowed intelligent life, and hence observers, to exist.
String theorist Leonard Susskind has argued that string theory provides a natural anthropic explanation of the small value of the cosmological constant. According to Susskind, the different vacuum states of string theory might be realized as different universes within a larger multiverse. The fact that the observed universe has a small cosmological constant is just a tautological consequence of the fact that a small value is required for life to exist. Many prominent theorists and critics have disagreed with Susskind's conclusions. According to Woit, "in this case nthropic reasoningis nothing more than an excuse for failure. Speculative scientific ideas fail not just when they make incorrect predictions, but also when they turn out to be vacuous and incapable of predicting anything."
Compatibility with dark energy

It remains unknown whether string theory is compatible with a metastable, positive cosmological constant. Some putative examples of such solutions do exist, such as the model described by Kachru ''et al''. in 2003. In 2018, a group of four physicists advanced a controversial conjecture which would imply that no such universe exists. This is contrary to some popular models of dark energy such as Λ-CDM, which requires a positive vacuum energy. However, string theory is likely compatible with certain types of quintessence, where dark energy is caused by a new field with exotic properties.Background independence

One of the fundamental properties of Einstein's general theory of relativity is that it is background independent, meaning that the formulation of the theory does not in any way privilege a particular spacetime geometry. One of the main criticisms of string theory from early on is that it is not manifestly background-independent. In string theory, one must typically specify a fixed reference geometry for spacetime, and all other possible geometries are described as perturbations of this fixed one. In his book ''The Trouble With Physics
''The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next'' is a 2006 book by the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin about the problems with string theory. The book strongly criticizes string theory and it ...

'', physicist Lee Smolin
Lee Smolin (; born June 6, 1955) is an American theoretical physicist, a faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo and a member of the graduate faculty of the ...

of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI, Perimeter, PITP) is an independent research centre in foundational theoretical physics located in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. It was founded in 1999. The institute's founding and major benefactor ...

claims that this is the principal weakness of string theory as a theory of quantum gravity, saying that string theory has failed to incorporate this important insight from general relativity.
Others have disagreed with Smolin's characterization of string theory. In a review of Smolin's book, string theorist Joseph Polchinski writes
Polchinski notes that an important open problem in quantum gravity is to develop holographic descriptions of gravity which do not require the gravitational field
to be asymptotically anti-de Sitter. Smolin has responded by saying that the AdS/CFT correspondence, as it is currently understood, may not be strong enough to resolve all concerns about background independence.
Sociology of science

Since the superstring revolutions of the 1980s and 1990s, string theory has been one of dominant paradigms of high energy theoretical physics. Some string theorists have expressed the view that there does not exist an equally successful alternative theory addressing the deep questions of fundamental physics. In an interview from 1987,Nobel laureate
The Nobel Prizes ( sv, Nobelpriset, no, Nobelprisen) are awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Swedish Academy, the Karolinska Institutet, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee to individuals and organizations who make out ...

David Gross made the following controversial comments about the reasons for the popularity of string theory:
Several other high-profile theorists and commentators have expressed similar views, suggesting that there are no viable alternatives to string theory.
Many critics of string theory have commented on this state of affairs. In his book criticizing string theory, Peter Woit views the status of string theory research as unhealthy and detrimental to the future of fundamental physics. He argues that the extreme popularity of string theory among theoretical physicists is partly a consequence of the financial structure of academia and the fierce competition for scarce resources. In his book ''The Road to Reality
''The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe'' is a book on modern physics by the British mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, published in 2004. It covers the basics of the Standard Model of particle physics, discussin ...

'', mathematical physicist Roger Penrose
Sir Roger Penrose (born 8 August 1931) is an English mathematician, mathematical physicist, philosopher of science and Nobel Laureate in Physics. He is Emeritus Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics in the University of Oxford, an emeritus ...

expresses similar views, stating "The often frantic competitiveness that this ease of communication engenders leads to bandwagon effect
The bandwagon effect is the tendency for people to adopt certain behaviors, styles, or attitudes simply because others are doing so. More specifically, it is a cognitive bias by which public opinion or behaviours can alter due to particular acti ...

s, where researchers fear to be left behind if they do not join in." Penrose also claims that the technical difficulty of modern physics forces young scientists to rely on the preferences of established researchers, rather than forging new paths of their own. Lee Smolin expresses a slightly different position in his critique, claiming that string theory grew out of a tradition of particle physics which discourages speculation about the foundations of physics, while his preferred approach, loop quantum gravity, encourages more radical thinking. According to Smolin,
Smolin goes on to offer a number of prescriptions for how scientists might encourage a greater diversity of approaches to quantum gravity research. Smolin, Ch. 20
Notes

References

Bibliography

* * * * * * * * * * *Further reading

Popular science

* * * * *Textbooks

* * * * * * * * * * *External links

WebsitesNot Even Wrong

A blog critical of string theory

The Official String Theory Web Site

Why String Theory

An introduction to string theory. Video

bbc-horizon: parallel-uni

— 2002 feature documentary by BBC Horizon, episode Parallel Universes focus on history and emergence of M-theory, and scientists involved.

pbs.org-nova: elegant-uni

— 2003 Emmy Award-winning, three-hour miniseries by

Nova
A nova (plural novae or novas) is a transient astronomical event that causes the sudden appearance of a bright, apparently "new" star (hence the name "nova", which is Latin for "new") that slowly fades over weeks or months. Causes of the dramat ...

with Brian Greene
Brian Randolph Greene (born February 9, 1963) is a American theoretical physicist, mathematician, and string theorist. Greene was a physics professor at Cornell University from 19901995, and has been a professor at Columbia University sin ...

, adapted from his The Elegant Universe
''The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory'' is a book by Brian Greene published in 1999, which introduces string and superstring theory, and provides a comprehensive though non-technical assess ...

(original PBS
The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) is an American public broadcaster and non-commercial, free-to-air television network based in Arlington, Virginia. PBS is a publicly funded nonprofit organization and the most prominent provider of educ ...

broadcast dates: October 28, 8–10 p.m. and November 4, 8–9 p.m., 2003).
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