Strings: History, Development, Impact

Done: All three parts of my lecture for a general audience on String Theory are up now… Beyond the Hype: The Weird World of String Theory (Science on Tap, Seattle, WA, September 25, 2006). Though a few years old, this talk is still very topical; it covers the history, development, context and impact of string … Read more

Why You Can’t Easily Dismiss the Cosmological Constant Problem

I’m still early on in my attempts to explain the “naturalness problem of the Standard Model” and its implications.  A couple of days ago I explained what particle physicists mean by the term “natural” — it means “typical” or “generic”.  And I described how, at least from one naive point of view, the Standard Model … Read more

A First Stab at Explaining “Naturalness”

Arguably the two greatest problems facing particle physicists, cosmologists, string theorists, and the like are both associated with an apparent failure of a notion called “naturalness”.  Until now, I’ve mostly avoided this term on this site, because to utter the word demands an extended explanation.  After all, how could nature be unnatural, by definition? Well, … Read more

And the New Rich and Famous Man Is: Sasha Polyakov

As I think most of us in the field expected, professor Alexander Polyakov was selected from among the nominees as the winner of  a cool $3 million check  Fundamental Physics Prize today. 

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Why, Professor Kaku? Why?

Professor Michio Kaku, of City College (part of the City University of New York), is well-known for his work on string theory in the 1960s and 1970s, and best known today for his outreach efforts through his books and his appearances on radio and television.  His most recent appearance was a couple of days ago, … Read more

Conclusion of the Higgs Symposium

By almost all measures, the Higgs Symposium at the University of Edinburgh, as part of the new Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics, was a great success.  The only negative was that Professor Peter Higgs himself had a bad cold this week, and had to cancel his talk, as well as missing the majority of the talks by others.  Obviously all of us in attendance were very disappointed not to hear directly from him, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

Other than this big hole in the schedule, the talks given at the symposium seemed to me to form a coherent summary of where we are right now in our understanding of the Higgs field and particle.  They were full of interesting material, and wonderfully complementary to one another.  This motivates me to try to provide, for non-experts, some future articles on what the conference attendees had to say.  But to write such articles well takes time.  So for now, here’s the quick version summarizing the last few talks, along the lines of the summaries I wrote (here and here) of the earlier talks.  The slides from all the talks are posted here.

Here we go:

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From String Theory to the Large Hadron Collider

The huge Milner prizes for nine well-known scientists, and the controversy they generated, have motivated me to relate a story.  It happened during the theorist/experimentalist workshop that was held in early August (see also here) at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada.  And it illuminates something that many scientists, science commentators and science journalists, as well as science fans in the public, seem to be unaware of, but ought to know.

Before I start, I want to make one thing clear.  I am by no means a flag waver for the string theory community; the theory’s been spectacularly over-hyped, and the community’s political control of high-energy physics in many U.S. physics departments has negatively impacted many scientific careers, including my own.  On the other hand, I am also not going to tell you that string theory, as a theory, is somehow evil incarnate; I have done a certain amount of string theory research, and not only have I learned a great deal from it that I could not have learned any other way, doing the research had a positive effect on my career.  So I feel it is unfortunate that string theory has been a political football, with two violent teams trying to kick the ball toward their opponents’ goal posts.   From my perspective, the game is irrational and preposterous, reasonable people were long ago refusing to play it, and it is high time the ball were grabbed by the referee and placed quietly in the middle of the field where it belongs.

My story takes place on the evening of Friday, August 3rd, following the second day of the workshop, which brought together theorists and CMS experimentalists for discussions concerning research strategies at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC]. 

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