30 Years Ago, String Theory Made It To The Big Time

Thirty years ago, string theory vaulted from obscurity to the hottest thing in physics, thanks largely to a landmark paper from two scientists: Michael Green and John Schwarz.

While many of the basic ideas of string theory were around before 1984, there was not yet an indication that that this concept could tie all the physical forces of the universe together in a nice multidimensional bow. At the time, string theory was chock-full of mathematical anomalies; running the equations under different circumstances would give you inconsistent answers where you would have expected to reliably arrive at the same value.

But in the summer of 1984, Schwarz and Green finally found a way to make the anomalies vanish. The tangled, seemingly incoherent ball of string theory shifted into something more elegant—and enticing. The paper was an instant hit.

“I was well familiar with the fact that ‘anomalies’ were the main obstacle to using string theory to make more realistic theories of elementary particle forces unified with gravity,” says Institute for Advanced Study physicist Edward Witten. Once he saw the work, it was clear to him “that things would never be the same again.”

This “first superstring revolution” hinted that physicists were zeroing in on a way to reconcile quantum mechanics with gravity—something no other candidate for a “theory of everything” was able to do. And the implications were profound: Inside fundamental particles like electrons and quarks may lie tiny strings a hundred billion billion times smaller than an atom, directing the dance of reality with their vibrations.

To this day, Schwarz and Green’s work stands. “After 30 years, it is still the case that superstring theory is the only consistent quantum theory that contains gravity and has all the ingredients to make models of elementary particles,” says Caltech theoretical physicist Hirosi Ooguri.  String theory still lacks observational confirmation—given the infinitesimally small scales and multiple dimensions involved, it’s not something that can easily be cooked up in a lab—but the numbers are in place. And physics hasn’t been the same since.

Image Credit: Flickr CC/Steve Spinks

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13 comments
noemi89
noemi89

Legge sole interno di luna intervallo di giove intorno di Terra.

noemi89
noemi89

Is the best wayout to the space_time is torus in mode to mass energy are solar system to earth.

Miccky ER
Miccky ER

Change is necessary in mass cmmunication

Shyam Jha
Shyam Jha

Nobody's quite sure, where in the name of of universe lies the final frontier of PHYSICS!!That's why it's so weird..

Kalpana Singh
Kalpana Singh

String theory ref Veda Shiva tandava,ref CERN. String theory was only hypothesized quite some time, it's great they have now enough of empirical data to support it. It says that the formation of universe and activity before big bang. The particles vibrate or dance in specific rhythm.This is before big bang, hence the new theory for evolution of universe.

Dinabandhu Sahoo
Dinabandhu Sahoo

<= Simple version of the theory is needed for mass consumption. =>