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Essentials : Great Expectations

String theory is a proposal about nature on an unbelievably small scale, over a billion times smaller than the distances studied  at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). We may never be able to detect strings themselves. Despite decades of research the physics community is divided about its practical and philosophical implications. Here we explore what the future might hold. How do we go [...]

Philosophy : What Makes a Theory?

Progress in science is often based on a close allegiance between theory and experiment. Generations of scientists have searched for ways to describe and explain their view of the world. The idea that all science can be derived from observations and experiments is known as empiricism. Formally most scientists strive to find models that are both empirical and realistic. Does string theory [...]

Experiments : Searching for Strings

One of the biggest criticisms of string theory is that it has never been confirmed by experiment, despite its long history. The difficulty lies with the size of the strings, which can be as small as 10-33 cm in length. This is a hundred million billion times smaller than the protons that are smashed together at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva. The LHC is the largest particle [...]

Limitations : Tell Me Something I Don't Know

We do not yet fully understand string theory. In particular physicists lack the defining mathematics for much of M-theory. Without this machinery the puzzle is far from complete and our limited comprehension restricts the predictive power of the theory. It may be decades before we have a reliable map of the string theory landscape. Perhaps in hindsight we’ll see a much simpler [...]

Alternatives : The Road Less Travelled

For the past forty years the problem of quantum gravity has attracted many serious research efforts. Some of these have fallen by the wayside, dismissed as incorrect or outlandish. Others have contributed to the toolbox of string theory. Still more have been developed independently. These alternative approaches provide different explanations of reality. The most popular challenger is [...]