Sunday, August 27, 2006
Toes with Strings attached
Hidden by the fabric of our universe lie at least seven more dimensions. There are 11 in all, a football team of dimensions. Time would have to be the goalkeeper. Totally mad and focussed on one thing only. Three more are defined by the formation. Left-right, back-forth, up-down. Another might be the fiery ball in the middle. Another one still is the opposition. The ref could be a dimension. Then there’s the manager and the audience. That’s nine. Throw in the weather and the attitude and there are your dimensions. But there's possibly more. Some say there are 26 dimensions and there are possibly a few more hidden under THOSE ones.
String Theory predicts all these things. It does that by being many things to many people, including five different mathematical versions of the same thing. Ed Witten proved they were the same. It is the TOE, a theory of everything that Einstein searched in vain for the last 40 years of his life. But just like all the socks that Einstein lost through his life, these dimensions were there all the time.
String theory is a model of fundamental physics whose building blocks are one-dimensional extended objects (strings) rather than the zero-dimensional points (particles) that are the basis of the Standard Model of particle physics. It is the only known theory that explains gravity. But there are five models and Witten called the combination of all five “M-Theory”. He said the letter M stood for many things, just the theory itself. He also suggested that a general formulation of M-theory will probably require the development of new mathematical language.
These things are very small. How small? About as small to an atom as a tree is to the solar system. Small. That’s why it lies in the reach of untestable mathematics safe from scrutiny. Philosophy rather than science. That’s also why CERN (Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire) in Geneva are building a 27km ring 100 metres deep in the Alps costing 2 billion Euros. CERN have scientific credibility. In 1993, they gave the world the World Wide Web for free.
They are now looking for the God Particle. Jim Verdee, a particle physicist at the Imperial College London describes the testing thus “We are at a point where experiments must guide us, we cannot make progress without them”. Particles will be send around the course to collide with each other. Mostly they will bounce off each other. But occasionally they will collide head-on. Scientists are hoping to examine the wreckage of these explosions to see if they can isolate some of the sub-components that may some day look string. Man has guided large particle explosions before. Nuclear fission was predicted by Einstein long before Hiroshima proved him right. Does string theory have military connotations?
At the moment, such questions are the domain of “metareligions” looking out for conspiracy theories. Metareligionist Gary Bukkum says that the US military are producing “exotic bombs - including a new class of isomeric gamma ray weapons.” However if practical advances are discovered by this CERN mega laboratory under the mountains, it cannot be long before there is a military angle.
CERN currently has 20 member countries. They are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It maps roughly onto the core membership of the EU (Ireland and Luxembourg are out but non-members Norway and Switzerland are in). The acronym originally stood, in French, for Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (European Council for Nuclear Research) for the original 11 members in 1952. It kept the acronym even when the name of the organisation changed. About half of the world's particle physics community are working on experiments conducted at CERN.
Their test called the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will switch on in 2007. The 27km tunnel is buried around 50 to 175 metres underground. It straddles the Swiss and French borders on the outskirts of Geneva. Two counter rotating beams of protons or heavy ions are designed to collide at 7 TeV per beam (1 TeV is the energy of motion of a flying mosquito). The aim is to determine what happens on or near the big bang. CERN's website quotes the Guardian “To pinpoint the smallest fragments of the universe you have to build the biggest machine in the world. To recreate the first millionths of a second of creation you have to focus energy on an awesome scale."
Is the collision of fourteen times as much energy as mosquitos likely to be on the awesome scale? Does String Theory sting? CERN will provide some intriguing answers next year.