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World's top theorists take on the 'Theory of Everything'

06 December 2018 | Research
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Breakthroughs in string theory may one day lead to a Theory of Everything

An upcoming conference at the NUS Institute for Mathematical Sciences is bringing together dozens of the world’s most prestigious theoretical physicists and mathematicians to explore the principles behind a Theory of Everything.

The conference, entitled “String and M-Theory: The New Geometry of the 21st Century”, will take place over five days from 10 to 14 December, and will consist of introductory lectures, research talks, and informal discussions. This event is the brainchild of Associate Professor Meng-Chwan Tan, from NUS Physics, who also leads the NUS String Theory Group.

String theory was accidentally discovered in the 1980s after physicists suggested the wildest ideas they could think of. It states that the tiny subatomic particles which were thought to be the building blocks of the universe, are actually made from even tinier strings or loops. Just as different vibrations on a violin string can give separate notes, vibrations within these elementary strings create separate particles. 

Despite being counterintuitive, string theory was shown to be a seemingly accurate representation of how the universe is made. Currently, string theory is the leading candidate for Einstein’s dream of a Theory of Everything, which would bring together all the fundamental forces that exist into a single model. In this way, a Theory of Everything could accurately describe every physical phenomenon that occurs in nature.

Prof Tan explained, “Once we fully comprehend how string theory and the Theory of Everything are connected, the implications are huge. We could finally understand how gravity interacts with electromagnetism, meaning we could engineer electromagnets that generate their own gravitational fields. In other words, anti-gravity technology would no longer be science fiction.”

For the first time ever, we are bringing together world-renowned string theorists and mathematicians that have never collaborated before. I believe that with this synergy of experts, we can make significant progress towards a Theory of Everything

The discovery of string theory sparked a revolution in physics, and theorists soon discovered five competing versions of “superstring theory” (which incorporated supersymmetry, an attribute forced upon them by physical consistency). However, Prof Tan’s postdoctoral mentor, Professor Edward Witten, later showed that all of these theories were intricately connected. This incredible breakthrough was dubbed M-theory, and is so complex that it requires the use of seven extra dimensions that we can’t perceive.

Now, this event will assemble the top experts in the field to discuss the latest discoveries in string and M-theory. “For the first time ever, we are bringing together world-renowned string theorists and mathematicians that have never collaborated before. I believe that with this synergy of experts, we can make significant progress towards a Theory of Everything,” Prof Tan said.

Among the many illustrious guests attending the conference will be the distinguished Professor Ashoke Sen. Prof Witten and Prof Sen were the first academics to receive the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for their work on string theory. This is the highest honour in all of theoretical physics, arguably surpassing even the Nobel Prize.

This is the first string theory conference to be held in Southeast Asia, and is a testament to the pioneering theoretical research being conducted at NUS. The current research challenges that are being explored by the NUS String Theory Group include cutting-edge topics at the interface of string theory and pure mathematics such as “Branes and categorifying integrability” and “String dualities and generalisations of the Langlands program”.

The “String and M-Theory: The New Geometry of the 21st Century” conference is open to all NUS students and staff. Click here to register.



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