RUBBER BANDS AND STRINGS
WHAT HAPPENED TO PHYSICS?
In the early 1900’s, after Albert Einstein finalized his relativity theories, he thought that he could find proof that unified all four physical phenomena. These four forces are: electromagnetism, gravity, the strong nuclear force (which holds the atom together), and the weak nuclear force (which causes radioactive decay). Unfortunately, Einstein died before he found the unification theory.
By 1980, the standard model of physics had been evolved which explained the relationship between protons and neutrons in the atom which led to the discovery of quarks which are held together by gluons. Since that time, no one has done an experiment which is not consistent with this model or with general relativity. For the past 25 years many theories have been proposed, but none have made much headway in the solution of unification.
Two promising theories evolved after relativity. One was quantum theory and the other was string theory. Einstein had considered quantum theory as an answer to why photons acted in some cases like particles and in other cases like waves. He finally concluded that all matter had a granular structure, as did the electric charge and so has energy. Photons are the energy quanta of which light is composed. So is light a wave or a shower of protons? Is a beam of electrons a shower of elementary particles or a wave?
In 1970 a new theory evolved. This theory treated particles not as points but as strings (very tiny strings), that could be stretched like rubber bands – and like rubber bands, they vibrated. These strings opened and closed, vibrating as they traveled, colliding with one another and exchanging energy. String theory promised to be a quantum theory of gravity which is also a unification of forces and matter. Wallah!, the unification of the four forces was at hand – but there were problems. There were lots of solutions in string theory and up to ten dimensions, but no one could show by experiment that these extra dimensions existed or how they could be measured. There was no correlation with the real world.
Several other theories have been advanced since string theory was proposed, but none have been absolutely proven to be the answer to the unification of the fundamental forces and the standard models of particle physics. Still, no theories proposed in the last 25 years have been successfully experimentally proved. It is hoped that the new supercollider at CERN will answer some of these questions.
In the interim, science marches on with theories being proposed and worked on by several scientists in the hope that each idea will solve the problems or, at least, contribute to the general knowledge. Stay tuned!