Theory of everything put to the test

January 24, 2007

Segment of Particle accelerator in labString theory is arguably the most popular theory in theoretical physics; that is, it cannot be proven. The idea, is everything you see around you is made up of tiny strands of energy that vibrate at different frequencies. Until now, experimental verification has not been possible; but researchers at the University of California, Carnegie Mellon University, and The University of Texas are planning a definitive test with the future launch of the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland that could disprove the current theory.

Similar to the well known U.S. particle collider at Fermi Lab, the Large Hadron Collider, scheduled for November 2007, is expected to be the largest, and highest energy particle accelerator in existence; it will use liquid helium cooled superconducting magnets to produce electric fields that will propel particles to near light speeds in a 16.7 mile circular tunnel. They then introduce a new particle into the accelerator, which collides with the existing ones, scattering many other mysterious subatomic particles about.

It is with this accelerator, that will allow researchers to begin observing the scattering of W bosons, an elementary particle that is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature and required in the proposed testing of the current string theory. I use “current” because string theory is just that, a theory; and it is constantly changing as more information becomes available.

“Our work shows that, in principle, string theory can be tested in a non-trivial way,” said Ira Rothstein, co-author of the paper and professor of physics at Carnegie Mellon.

“The beauty of our test is the simplicity of its assumptions,” said Benjamin Grinstein, a professor of physics at the University of California “The canonical forms of string theory include three mathematical assumptions—Lorentz invariance, analyticity and unitarity. Our test sets bounds on these assumptions.”

Grinstein also noted that if their test does not substantiate what the theory predicts, one of the key mathematical assumptions about the current string theory would be incorrect.

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17 Responses to “Theory of everything put to the test”

  1. John Conway:

    Well, not exactly…

    The magnets in the LHC do not produce electric fields, they are magnets! The LHC magnets are there to keep the protons going in a circle: a charged particle in a magnetic field will have a curved path.

    The LHC is actually two accelerators in one: there are two separate vacuum beam pipes, 27 km in circumference, and “bunches” of protons circulate in opposite directions in each one, colliding at four points around the ring.

    And as for definitively testing string theory, well, theorists are awfully clever folks at wiggling out of experimental constraints….

  2. Robert:

    String theory tries to simplify the myriad variety of subatomic particles that other theories are trying to keep track of… asserting that these various particles, quarks etc. are not distinct types of particle, but are “states” viewed at a point along the same “string.”

  3. Gareth:

    Where can we read more about the test itself and what it is trying to predict?

    One can never ‘prove’ theory. One can only test predictions of a theory and if during tests those predictions are validated the theory is therefore found to not be untrue. That is the theory is not necessarily true just because it happened to get something right.

    String theory to date has not been able to make new predictions, it is mostly based upon previously observed phenomena.

    This article is not particularly interesting without links to original sources describing the intent of the test and the results the researchers hope to get.

  4. kace:

    Indeed. What are some of the details of this experiment? It’s not even clear why it must wait for this newer, faster collider. What threshold is it that current super colliders cannot meet? … It’s still incredible news. Thanks for posting.

  5. Ross:

    String Theory is actually a hypothesis, not a theory. A theory is a hypothesis which has been extensively tested, and the string hypothesis has not been tested, as yet. This is the first test of the string hypothesis, and probably is not sufficcient to move the hypothesis to theory. And no test can prove a theory or hypothesis, only disprove it, as Gareth correctly states above.

  6. Tim:

    It’s better to say a theory is first an explanation that best fits the facts, and second that is testable. So String Theory is not too an inaccurate title, considering it does seem to account for much observation.

  7. Tim W:

    Since whoever wrote this didn’t bother to include a link of any kind, googling the Ira Rothstein quote above comes up with several instances of a press release that has some more details, tells us that the universities in the UC and UT systems (both are composed of quite a few universities including several that are doing notable research) and notes the paper will be published in the “January 26 issue of the journal Physical Review Letters” The piece above appears to be a poor rewrite of the press release that mostly succeeds in keeping the fat while cutting meat…

    And this comment system needs to have marked that Name and (e)mail are required.

  8. George Gardner:

    No one here said it would prove this theory, only disprove the current thinking behind it. No one except the reasearchers have the details on the test; believe me, I would like to know as well, Gareth.

  9. David:

    This is an interesting story, but the grammar is horrible and makes the article a pain to read. Also, the inclusion of a link or two would help this unintelligent rambling of an article.

  10. Mark:

    We are swimming in a MATRIX and the strings are the puppeteers.
    Will this solve the Immirzi parameter?

  11. inno:

    I don’t quite understand the emphasis on the theoretical nature of string theory. Like most else in the various scientific fields, yes, it is a theory. They will all remain theories until they are either proven true or are not proven false over an extended period (think Newton).

    Take the most well known formula from Einsteins article “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?”, E = mc^2. It is a portion of what is known as the special theory of relativity. Given, it’s been proven time and time again, it is still a theoretical equation.

    I will give you that string theory is not a proper theory in that it is not yet falsifiable, but these eventual experiments will make it false (in whole or part) or falsifiable.

  12. Craig Helfgott:

    “The beauty of our test is the simplicity of its assumptions,” said Benjamin Grinstein, a professor of physics at the University of California “The canonical forms of string theory include three mathematical assumptions—Lorentz invariance, analyticity and unitarity. Our test sets bounds on these assumptions.”

    Speaking as a (former) string theorist, almost all extensions of the Standard Model of particle physics keep these three assumptions, not just string theory. So this is not just a test of string theory. It would be very surprising indeed if they were to find any violations. Nonetheless, some theorists have proposed models which do away with one of these assumptions.

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  14. francis:

    Testing string theory is like testing the motion of a fixed electron since you can’t know wheather it is moving or it is stationary according to the Uncertainty principle. String theory is nothing but a rope that when in space cannot move through air, that is the air drag. To test such a theory means puting a guitar string when swinging into hot water that everyone will be able to feel the heat created by such a string in places near it, therefore in testing this theory we will have a big problem on earth take care when you are testing.,

  15. Scoobs:

    My Universal theory:
    Where A and B are dualities and C is the synthesis of this balanced duality.

    I like to represent it like this as well:

    circle + Square = Spiral

    The circle is irrationality (randomness)
    Square is rational (certainty)
    And the spiral is the synthesis of certainty and uncertainty.

    The circle can be represented by Pi.
    The square represents linear sequence.
    The spiral is fibronacci sequence.

    But to make a fibronacci sequence go on forever you need 4 inflection points. 4 points of change. 4 fundamental shifts in vibration. 2 positive and 2 negative.

    I don’t think you need to look at the microcosmos to see this, it is everywhere.

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