Philosophical Society of Washington

Superstrings: Why Einstein Would Love Spaghetti in Fundamental Physics

S. James Gates
University of Maryland, Department of Physics

2093rd Meeting Abstract
Friday, October 2, 1998 at 8:15 PM


There are some questions in physics that until recently could not be answered due to the lack of a complete theory of gravitation. Some of these where: “How does gravity work on objects a billion-billion times smaller than the hydrogen atom?” “What was the universe like at the instant after the BIG BANG?” “What is the complete physics of Black Holes?” For such questions, it is critical to know how the force of gravity is consistent with the principles of quantum theory, the physical axioms that govern the tiniest objects in our universe. In these arenas, the effects of gravity and all the other forces must be very different from those seen in every day experience. Einstein suspected this and it led him to the belief that there must exist a “unified field theory” to describe our world. He spent the last forty years of his life unsuccessfully searching for it. Recently there appeared new ideas, collectively called “superstring theory”, that have apparently succeeded. This talk is an introduction to the idea of superstrings and heterotic strings as well as a progress report on the newest frontiers of this subject, M-theory.

About the Author:

Sylvester James Gates, Jr. earned a B.Sc. degree in mathematics and physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Ph.D. at MIT in 1977 for studies of elementary particle physics, quantum field theory and supersymmetry. He has held faculty appointments to MIT (1982-84) and the University of Maryland (1984-present). He served in 1991—93 as Professor and Chair of the Physics Department of Howard University. Professor Gates' research is in the areas of the mathematical and theoretical physics of supersymmetric particles, and fields and strings, including the topics of quarks, leptons, gravity, super and heterotic and unified field theories of the type first envisioned by Einstein.

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