A Gentle Intro to String Theory, with Amanda Peet
28 Mar, 2008
A GENTLE INTRO TO STRING THEORY: APPROACHING OUR BIGGEST QUESTION,
with Prof. Amanda Peet, Physics, U of T (Part of CFI's ongoing Future of Science Series)
Opening event in CFI's first anniversary celebration series
String theory is a fascinating subject which delights the imagination of laypeople and academic researchers alike. More concretely, it provides the best framework available in today's marketplace of ideas for understanding physics all the way from the sub-microscopic realm out to the very edges of the known universe.
As a scientific discipline, string theory grew out of the field of particle physics about forty years ago and remains firmly embedded in it today. With the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) atom-smasher close to startup, and with cosmology experiments bringing in ever more exquisitely precise data about the fiery birth of the universe, modern physicists find ourselves in an unprecedented era of discovery. Together, the micro world of particle physics and the macro world of early universe cosmology are giving unprecedented insight into the structure of force, matter, and spacetime.
Despite impressive successes, crucial questions remain unanswered. Among the deepest puzzles are the nature of dark matter and especially of dark energy, and the irreconcilable clash between the twin pillars of twentieth century physics: general relativity (GR) and quantum mechanics (QM). In his later years, Einstein yearned to discover a way of unifying together his theory of gravity with electromagnetism, but he failed spectacularly.
String theory realizes his unification dream, by positing the outrageously simple (yet surprisingly mathematically rich) idea that the fundamental building blocks of Nature are not point particles but instead one-dimensional strings: vibrating strands of energy.
This turns out to be very handy in resolving the clash of civilizations between QM and GR, providing the first-ever - and still the only - fully consistent theoretical description of quantum gravity." This deep technical consistency enables string theorists to delve into the deepest questions that human minds can dream up.
How did our universe originate? What goes on at the heart of a black hole?
Are there extra dimensions of space? Could there be other universes?
What is the origin of mass? What is the ultimate fate of our universe?
What are the limits of scientific knowledge about human origins?
Why do string theorists believe that popular critics of the field are misguided?
Come and hear about all of this and more.
Note: pertinent questions will be permitted throughout the presentation. The talk will be self-contained and pitched at the layperson level. No previous experience with physics will be assumed.
Amanda Peet grew up in New Zealand, where she went to school and earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Canterbury. After earning her PhD at Stanford and taking up postdoctoral research positions at Princeton University and the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara, she was hired at the University of Toronto in the Department of Physics in 2000. She currently holds the rank of Associate Professor. Her awards have included an Ontario PREA award, a Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study of Harvard University, and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship. She counts physics education and outreach among her passions, and built her own web site at http://pep.to/ .
For picture gallery of the event, click on the photo below: