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Physics World Archive

Superstrings
Leonard Susskind
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Physics World
November 2003
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String theory is either a theory of everything which automatically unites gravity with the other three forces in nature or a theory of nothing, but finding the correct form of the theory is like searching for a needle in a stupendous haystack

Superstrings
Leonard Susskind
AS I sit down to write this article I feel some 19 orders of magnitude larger that I have taken on a task rather like than the proton mass. This is the entrying to summarize the history of the ergy of the universe when it was just world in 10 pages. It is just too large a 1043 s old, and it will probably be forever out of range of any particle accelsubject, with too many lines of thought erator. To understand physics at the and too many threads to weave together. Planck scale we need a quantum theIn the 34 years since it began, string ory of gravity. theory has developed into an enormous In the days when my career was bebody of knowledge that touches on ginning, a typical colloquium on highevery aspect of theoretical physics. energy physics would often begin by String theory is a theory of composstating that there are four forces in ite hadrons, an aspiring theory of elenature electromagnetic, weak, strong mentary particles, a quantum theory and gravitational followed by a stateof gravity, and a framework for underment that the gravitational force is standing black holes. It is also a powermuch too weak to be of any importful technical tool for taming strongly ance in particle physics so we will ignore interacting quantum eld theories String space superstring theory lives in it from now on. That has all changed. and, perhaps, a basis for formulating 10 dimensions, which means that six of the Today the other three forces are a fundamental theory of the universe. dimensions have to be compactified in order to why we It even touches on problems in con- explainis to usecan only perceive four. The best way to described by the gauge theories of do this a complicated 6D geometry called a quantum chromodynamics (QCD) densed-matter physics, and has also CalabiYau manifold, in which all the intrinsic and quantum electrodynamics (QED), provided a whole new world of mathe- properties of elementary particles are hidden. which together make up the Standard matical problems and tools. All I can do with this gargantuan collection of material is Model of particle physics. These quantum eld theories to make my own guess about which aspects of string theory describe the fundamental forces between particles as being are most likely to form the core of a future physical theory, due to the exchange of eld quanta: the photon for the elecperhaps 100 years from now. It will come as no surprise to my tromagnetic force, the W and Z bosons for the weak force, friends that my choice revolves around those things that have and the gluon for the strong force. In the string-theory commost interested me in the last several years. No doubt many of munity, however, the electromagnetic, strong and weak forces them will disagree with my judgement. Let them write their are generally considered to be manifestations of certain compactications of space from 10 or 11 dimensions to the own articles. String theory is considered to be a branch of high-energy four familiar dimensions of spacetime. But before I report or elementary particle physics. However, a high-energy the- on the status of string theory, I want to tell you how it came orist from the 1950s, 1960s or 1970s would be surprised to about that so many otherwise sensible high-energy theorists read a recent string-theory paper and nd not a single Feyn- became interested in quantum gravity. man diagram, cross-section or particle decay rate. Nor would there be any mention of protons, neutrinos or Higgs bosons Why quantum gravity? in the majority of current literature. What the reader would Elementary particles have far too many properties such nd are black-hole metrics, Einstein equations, Kaluza as spin, charge, colour, parity and hypercharge to be truly Klein theories and plenty of fancy geometry and topology. elementary. Particles obviously have some kind of internal The energy scales of interest are not MeV GeV or even TeV machinery at some scale. Protons and mesons reveal their , , but energies at the Planck scale the scale at which the classi- parts at the modestly small distance of about 1015 m, but quarks, leptons and photons hide their structure much more cal concepts of space and time break down. The Planck energy is equal to hc 5/G, where h is Plancks effectively. Indeed, no experiment has ever seen direct eviconstant divided by 2, c is the speed of light and G is the dence of size or structure for any of these particles. gravitational constant, and it corresponds to masses that are The rst indication that the true scale of elementary parA HANSON

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1 Compact dimensions
2R winding number = 1 winding number = 1

winding number = 2 There are an infinite number of ways to wind a string around an extra dimension. Each way is topologically described by an integer called the winding number, which can be positive or negative depending on the orientation of the string. The wound string is stretched along the compact direction, but from the point of view of ordinary 3D space it is located at a point and therefore looks like a particle. The winding number is simply a new kind of quantum number. String theory therefore has lots of possibilities for describing the complicated conservation laws and internal symmetries of elementary particles.

ticles might be somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Planck scale came in the 1970s. Howard Georgi and Sheldon Glashow, then at Harvard University, showed that the very successful, but somewhat contrived, Standard Model could be elegantly unied into a single theory by enlarging its symmetry group. The new construction was astonishingly compact and most particle theorists assumed that there must be some truth to it. But its predictions for the coupling constants the constants that describe the strengths of the strong, weak and electromagnetic interactions were wrong. Georgi, along with Helen Quinn and Steven Weinberg, also at Harvard, soon solved this problem when they realized that the coupling constants are not really constants at all they vary with energy. If the known couplings are extrapolated they all intersect the predictions of the unied theory at roughly the same scale. Moreover, this scale is close to the Planck scale. The implication of this was clear: the scale of the internal machinery of elementary particles is the Planck scale. And since the gravitational constant, G, appears in the denition of the Planck energy, to many of us this inevitably meant that gravitation must play an essential role in determining the properties of particles. The earliest attempts to reconcile gravity and quantum mechanics notably by Richard Feynman, Paul Dirac and Bryce DeWitt, who is now at the University of Texas at Austin were based on trying to t Einsteins general theory of relativity into a quantum eld theory like the hugely successful QED. The goal was to nd a set of rules for calculating scattering amplitudes in which the photons of QED are replaced by the quanta of the gravitational eld: gravitons. But gravitational forces become increasingly strong as the energy of the participating quanta increases, and the theory proved to be wildly out of control. Attempting to treat the graviton as a point particle simply gave rise to far too many degrees of freedom at short distances. In a sense the failure of this quantum gravity theory was a good sign. The theory itself gave no insight into the internal machinery of elementary particles, and it offered no explanation for the other forces of nature. At best it was more of the same: an effective (but not very) description of gravitation with no deeper insight into the origin of particle properties. At worst, it was mathematical nonsense. 30

Strings as hadrons We all know that science is full of surprising twists, but the discovery of string theory was particularly serendipitous. The theory grew out of attempts in the 1960s to describe the interactions of hadrons particles that contain quarks, such as the proton and neutron. This was a problem that had nothing to do with gravity. Gabriele Veneziano, now at CERN, and others had written down a simple mathematical expression for scattering amplitudes that had certain properties that were fashionable at that time. It was soon discovered by Yoichiro Nambu of the University of Chicago and myself, and in a slightly different form by Holger Bech Nielsen at the Niels Bohr Institute, that these amplitudes were the solution of a denite physical system that consists of extended 1D elastic strings. For the two years that followed, string theory was the theory of hadrons. One of the spectacular discoveries made in this early period was that the mathematical innities that occur in quantum eld theory are completely absent in string theory. However, from the very beginning there were big problems in interpreting hadrons as strings. For example, the earliest version of the theory could only accommodate bosons, whereas many hadrons including the proton and neutron are fermions. The distinction between bosons and fermions is one of the most important in physics. Bosons are particles that have integer spins, such as 0, h and 2h, whereas fermions have halfinteger spins of h/2, 3h/2 and so on. All fundamental matter particles, such as quarks and leptons, are fermions, while the particles that carry fundamental forces the photon, W and Z, and so on are all bosons. Fermionic versions of string theory were soon discovered and, moreover, they turned out to have a surprising symmetry called supersymmetry that is now totally pervasive in highenergy physics. In supersymmetric theories all bosons have a fermionic superpartner and vice versa. The early development of superstring theory was due to pioneering work by John Schwarz of Caltech, Andrei Neveu of the University of Montpellier II, Michael Green of Cambridge and Pierre Ramond of the University of Florida, and much of the subsequent technical development was carried out in a famous series of papers by Green and Schwarz in the 1980s. Another apparently serious problem with the string theory of hadrons concerned dimensions. Although the original assumptions in string theory were simple enough, the mathematics proved internally inconsistent, at least if the number of dimensions of spacetime was four. The source of this problem was quite deep, but, strangely, if spacetime has 10 dimensions it contrives to cancel out. The reasons were not at all easy to understand, but the extraordinary mathematical consistency of superstring theory in 10 dimensions was compelling. However, so was the obvious fact that spacetime has four dimensions, not 10. Thus by about 1972 theorists were beginning to question the relevance of string theory for hadrons. In fact, there were other serious physical shortcomings in addition to the bizarre need for 10 dimensions. A mathematical string can vibrate in many patterns, which represent a different type of particle, and among these are certain patterns that represent massless particles. But most dangerous of all were massless particles with two units of spin angular momentum (spin-two). There are certainly spin-two hadrons, but none that have
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QUANTUM GRAVITY anything like zero mass. Despite all efforts, the massless spintwo particle could not be removed or made massive. Eventually, mathematical string theory gave way to QCD as a theory of hadrons, which had its own explanation of the string-like behaviour of these particles without the bad side effects. For most high-energy theorists, string theory had lost its reason for existence. But a few bold souls saw opportunity in the debacle. A massless spin-two eld might not be good for hadronic physics, but it is just what was needed for quantum gravity, albeit in 10D. This is because just as the photon is the quantum of the electromagnetic eld, the graviton is the quantum of the gravitational eld. But the gravitational eld is a symmetric tensor rather than a vector, and this means the graviton is spin-two, rather than spin-one like the photon. This difference in spin is the principal reason why early attempts to quantize gravity based on QED did not work. A theory of everything The massless spin-two graviton led to a radical shift in perspective among theorists. The focus of mainstream highenergy physics at the time was on energy scales anywhere from the hadronic scale of a few GeV to the weak interaction scale of a few hundred GeV But to explore the idea that . string theory governs gravity, the energy scale of string excitations has to jump from the hadronic scale to the Planck scale. In other words, with barely a blink of the eye, string theorists would leapfrog 19 orders of magnitude, and therefore completely abandon the idea that progress in physics proceeds incrementally. Heady stuff, but also the source of much irritation in the rest of the physics community. Another reason for annoyance was somebodys idea to start referring to string theory as a theory of everything. Even string theorists found this irritating, but there is actually a technical sense in which string theory can either be a theory of everything or a theory of nothing. One of the problems in describing hadrons with strings was that it proved impossible to allow for the hadrons to interact with other elds, such as electromagnetic elds, as they clearly do experimentally. This was a deadly aw for a theory of hadrons, but not for a theory in which all matter, including photons, are strings. In other words, either all matter is strings, or string theory is wrong. This is one of the most exciting features of the theory. But what about the problem of dimensions? Here again, a sows ear was turned into a silk purse. The basic idea goes back to Theodor Kaluza in 1919, who tried to unify Einsteins gravitational theory with electrodynamics by introducing a compact space-like fth dimension. Kaluza discovered the beautiful fact that the extra components of the gravitational eld tensor in 5 dimensions behaved exactly like the electromagnetic eld plus one additional scalar eld. Somewhat later, in 1938, Oskar Klein and then Wolfgang Pauli generalized Kaluzas work so that the single compact dimension was replaced by a 2D space. If the 2D space is the surface of a sphere then a remarkable thing happens when Kaluzas procedure is followed. Instead of electrodynamics, Klein and Pauli discovered the rst non-Abelian gauge theory, which was later rediscovered by Chen Ning Yang and Robert Mills. This is exactly the same class of theories that is so successful in describing the strong and electromagnetic interactions in the Standard Model. One may ask whether particles move in the extra dimensions. For example, can a particle that appears to be standing
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T-duality
In a single compact dimension there are two kinds of quantum numbers: momentum in the compact direction and the winding number. Both of these are quantized in integer multiples of a basic unit, and each has a certain energy associated with it. In the case of momentum, for example, the energy is just the kinetic energy of motion in the compact direction. The energy of a particle with n units of compact momentum is equal to n/R, where R is the circumference of the compact direction. Note that the energy grows as the size of the compact space gets smaller. On the other hand, the winding modes also have energy, which is the potential energy needed to stretch the string around the compact co-ordinate. If we call the winding number m, then the winding energy is equal to mR. In this case the energy decreases as the size of the compact direction decreases. The surprising thing is that the spectrum of energies is unchanged if we change the compactification radius from R to 1/R, and at the same time interchange the KaluzaKlein momentum and winding modes. In other words, just by looking at the spectrum of energies you could never tell the difference between a theory that is compactified on a space of size R or on one of size 1/R. As you try to make the compactification scale smaller than the natural string scale i.e. the size of a vibrating string the theory begins to behave as if the compactification radius was getting bigger. Physically, the smallest compactification value of R is the string scale. But from a mathematical viewpoint, two different spaces one large, the other small are completely equivalent. This equivalence is called T-duality.

still in our usual 3D space have velocity or momentum components in the compact dimensions? The answer is yes, and the corresponding components of momentum dene new conserved quantities (gure 1). What is more, these quantities are quantized in discrete units. In short, they are charges similar to electric charge, isospin and all the other internal quantum numbers of elementary particles. The answer to the problem of dimensions in string theory is obvious: six of the 10 dimensions should be wrapped up into some very small compact space, and the corresponding quantized components of momenta become part of the internal machinery of elementary particles that determines their quantum numbers. Life in six dimensions Much of the development of string theory is therefore concerned with 6D spaces. These spaces, which can be thought of as generalized KaluzaKlein compactication spaces, were originally studied by mathematicians and are known as CalabiYau spaces. They are tremendously complicated and are not completely understood. But in the process of studying how strings move on them, physicists have created an unexpected revolution in the study of CalabiYau spaces. In particular, it was discovered that a compactication radius of size R is completely equivalent to a space with size 1/R from the point of view of string theory. This connection, which is known as T-duality, has a mathematically profound generalization called mirror symmetry, which states that there is an equivalence between small and large spaces (see box above). Mirror symmetry of CalabiYau spaces which are not only of different sizes but have completely different topologies was completely unsuspected before physicists began studying quantum strings moving on them. 31

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2 Types of string theory


Type IIA E8 E8 heterotic

M theory

Type IIB SO(32) heterotic Type I Originally it was thought that there were five distinct string theories in flat 10D space, each of which could provide a starting point for compactifications to four dimensions. SO(32) Type I theories are distinguished by having open as well as closed strings, where SO(32) represents the symmetry group of the theory. Type IIA and IIB theories have only closed strings. Closed strings have no ends and are like closed rubber bands with the topology of a circle, while open strings have two free ends that can move. Waves on open stings bounce back and forth between the ends, but waves on closed strings circulate endlessly around the string in one of two possible directions (hence the two versions of Type II string theory). Finally there are two heterotic theories SO(32) heterotic and E8 E8 heterotic which allow different kinds of waves to move in the two possible directions. It is now thought that the five different types of string theory are related to each other by deep symmetries such as T-duality, as if they were each the classical limit of a more fundamental theory called M-theory.

I wish it was possible to draw a CalabiYau space but they are tremendously complicated. They are six-dimensional, which is three more than I can visualize, and they have very complicated topologies, including holes, tunnels and handles. Furthermore, there are thousands of them, each with a different topology. And even when their topology is xed there are hundreds of parameters called moduli that determine the shape and size of the various dimensions. Indeed, it is the complexity of CalabiYau geometry that makes string theory so intimidating to an outsider. However, we can abstract a few useful things from the mathematics, one of them being the idea of moduli. The simplest example of a modulus is just the compactication radius, R, when there is only a single compact dimension. In more complicated cases, the moduli determine the sizes and shapes of the various features of the geometry. The moduli are not constants but depend on the geometry of the space itself, in the same way that the radius of the universe changes with time in a manner that is controlled by dynamical equations of motion. Since the compact dimensions are too small to see, the moduli can simply be thought of as elds in space that determine the local conditions. Electric and magnetic elds are examples of such elds but the moduli are even simpler: they are scalar elds (i.e. they have only one component), rather than vector elds. String theory always has lots of scalar-eld moduli and these can potentially play important roles in particle physics and cosmology. All of this raises an interesting question: what determines the compactication moduli in the real world of experience? Is there some principle that selects a special value of the 32

moduli of a particular CalabiYau space and therefore determines the parameters of the theory, such as the masses of particles, the coupling constants of the forces, and so on? The answer seems to be no: all values of the moduli apparently give rise to mathematically consistent theories. Whether or not this is a good thing, it is certainly surprising. Ordinarily we might expect the vacuum or ground state of the world to be the state of lowest energy. Furthermore, in the absence of very special symmetries, the energy of a region of space will depend non-trivially on the values of the elds in that region. Finding the true vacuum is then merely an exercise in computing the energy for a given eld conguration and minimizing it. This is, to be sure, a difcult task, but it is possible in principle. In string theory, however, we know from the beginning that the potential energy stored in a given conguration has no dependence on the moduli elds. The reason that the eld potential is exactly zero for every value of the moduli is that string theory is supersymmetric. Supersymmetry has both desirable and undesirable consequences. Its most obvious drawback is the requirement that for every fermion there is a boson with exactly the same mass, which is clearly not a property of our world. A more subtle difculty involves the aforementioned fact that the vacuum energy is independent of the moduli. As well as telling us that we cannot determine the moduli by minimizing the energy, supersymmetry also tells us that the quanta of the moduli elds are exactly massless. No such massless elds are known in nature and, furthermore, such elds are very dangerous. Indeed, massless moduli would probably lead to long-range forces that would compete with gravity and violate the equivalence principle the cornerstone of general relativity at an observable level. On the plus side, the vanishing vacuum energy that is implied by supersymmetry ensures that the cosmological constant vanishes. If it were not for supersymmetry, the vacuum would have a huge zero-point energy density that would make the radius of curvature of spacetime not much bigger than the Planck scale a most undesirable situation. Supersymmetry also stabilizes the vacuum against various hypothetical instabilities, and it allows us to make exact mathematical conclusions. Indeed, T-duality and mirror symmetry are examples of those exact consequences. Black holes Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s progress in string theory largely consisted of working out the detailed rules of perturbation theory for the ve known versions of the theory, which would allow theorists to arrive at actual solutions (gure 2). These perturbative rules were generalizations of the Feynman diagrams of QED and QCD in which the world lines of point particles are replaced by world sheets that are traced out by moving strings. The study of world-sheet physics created a huge body of knowledge about 2D quantum eld theory, but it did not offer much insight into the inner workings of quantum gravity. At best, string theory provided an especially consistent way to introduce a small distance scale and thereby regulate the divergences that had plagued the older attempts at quantizing gravity. Personally I found the whole enterprise dry, overly technical and, above all, disappointing. I felt that a quantum theory of gravity should profoundly affect our views of spacetime, quantum mechanics, the origin of the universe, and the mysPHYSICS WORLD NOVEMBER 2003

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QUANTUM GRAVITY teries of black holes. But string theory was largely silent about all these matters. Then in 1993 all this began to change, and the catalyst was the awakening interest in Stephen Hawkings earlier speculations about black holes. The starting point for Hawkings speculations was the thermal behaviour of black holes, which built on earlier work by Jacob Bekenstein of the Hebrew University in Israel. Rather than the cold, dead objects that they were originally thought to be, black holes turned out to have a heat content and to glow like black bodies. Because they glow they lose energy and evaporate, and because they have a temperature and an energy, they also have an entropy. This entropy, S, is dened by the BekensteinHawking equation: S = AkBc3/4hG, where A is the surface area of the horizon and kB is Boltzmanns constant. After realizing that black holes must evaporate by the emission of black-body radiation, Hawking raised an extremely profound question: what happens to all the detailed information that falls into a black hole? Once it falls through the horizon it cannot subsequently reappear on the outside without violating causality. That is the meaning of a horizon. But the black hole will eventually evaporate, leaving only photons, gravitons and other elementary particles as products of the decay. Hawking concluded that the information must ultimately be lost to our world. But one of the fundamental principles of quantum mechanics is that information is never lost, because the information in the initial state of a quantum system is permanently imprinted in the quantum state. Hawkings view was that conventional quantum mechanics must be violated during the formation and evaporation of the black hole. He rightly understood that if this is true, the rules of quantum mechanics must be drastically modied as the Planck scale is approached. The importance of this for particle physics, particularly for unied theories, should have been obvious. But initially Hawkings idea generated little interest among high-energy theorists, apart from myself and Gerard t Hooft at the University of Utrecht. We were convinced that by modifying the rules of quantum mechanics in the way advocated by Hawking, all hell would break loose, such as causing empty space to quickly heat up to stupendous temperatures and energy densities. We were sure that Hawking was wrong. By the early 1990s, however, the issue was becoming critical, especially to string theorists. String theory by its very denition is based on the conventional rules of quantum mechanics and if Hawking was right, the entire foundation of the theory would be destroyed. Over the last decade the apparent clash between standard quantum principles and black-hole evaporation has been resolved, favouring, I should add, the views of t Hooft and myself. The formation and evaporation of a black hole is similar to many other process in nature in which a collision between particles gives rise to a very rich and chaotic spectrum of intermediate states. In the case of a black hole, the collisions are between the original protons, neutrons and electrons in a collapsing star. Roughly speaking a black hole is nothing but a very excited string with a total length that is proportional to the area of its horizon. During the collision or collapse process, all the energy of the initial state goes into forming a single long, tangled string, and the entropy of the conguration is the logarithm of the number of congurations of a random-walking quantum string. The correspondence between string configurations and black-hole entropy was checked for all of the various kinds
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3 D-branes
D0-brane

D1-brane

D2-brane or membrane D-branes are surfaces that live in string theory, and they come in various dimensions. D2-branes, for example, are two-dimensional and can also be called membranes. D0-branes are particle like and D1-branes are string like. Higher-dimensional objects can exist as well. D-branes are essential for making string theory mathematically consistent, and have far-reaching implications for a theory of quantum gravity.

of charged and neutral black holes that occur in compactifications of string theory. In most of the cases the entropy of the string configuration could be estimated and it agreed with the BekensteinHawking entropy to within a factor of order unity. But string theorists wanted to do better. The Bekenstein Hawking formula for the entropy of a black hole is very precise: the entropy is one quarter of the horizon area, measured in Planck units, for every kind of black hole, be it static, rotating, charged or even higher-dimensional. Surely the universal factor of a quarter should be computable in string theory? The key to a precise calculation was obvious. Certain black holes called extremal black holes which are the ground states of charged black holes that carry electric and magnetic charges are especially tractable in a supersymmetric theory. The only problem was that in 1993 no-one knew how to build an extremal black hole out of the right type out of strings. This had to wait a couple of years for the discovery of entities called D-branes. Brane world In 1995 Joe Polchinski of the University of California in Santa Barbara electried the string-theory community with a major discovery that has subsequently impacted every eld of physics. As we have seen, T-duality is the strange symmetry that interchanges the KaluzaKlein momenta and winding numbers of a closed string (see gure 1). But what happens to an open string? Obviously the idea of a winding number does not make sense for such a string. What actually happens to open stings under T-duality is that the free ends become xed on surfaces called D-branes. D-branes come in various dimensions; 2D branes, for example, can also be called membranes (gure 3). They have an energy or mass per unit surface area and are localized physical objects in their own right. In a sense they seem to be no less fundamental than the strings themselves. To an outsider, D-branes may seem to be arbitrary additions to the theory. They are not. Their existence is absolutely essential to the mathematical consistency of the theory. In addition to allowing T-duality to act on an open string in Type I string theory, they are necessary for implementing the deep dualities that link the ve different kinds of string theory together. But from the point of view of black holes, the importance 33

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QUANTUM GRAVITY of D-branes is that you can build ex- 4 Anti-de Sitter space symmetric non-Abelian gauge theory. tremal black holes from them. In fact, In other words, it is a supersymmetric just by placing a large number of Dversion of QCD the theory describing branes at the same location you can quarks and gluons. In a sense, string build an extremal supersymmetric black theory is returning to its roots as a possihole. And because of the special propble description of hadrons (See Physics erties of supersymmetric systems, the World May 2003 pp3538). statistical entropy of that black hole Maldacena realized that in an apcan be precisely computed. The result, propriate limit the theory of D3-branes which was rst derived by Andrew Stroshould be a complete description of minger and Cumrun Vafa at Harvard string theory not just on the branes, in 1996, is that the entropy is equal to but in the entire geometry in which exactly one quarter of the horizon area the branes are embedded. A gauge thein Planck units! This suggested that ory would therefore also be a descripthe microscopic degrees of freedom tion of quantum gravity in a particular implied by the BekensteinHawking time background spacetime. This space entropy are the degrees of freedom detime is called anti-de Sitter space, which, scribing strings, and was a major boost roughly speaking, is a universe inside a Anti-de Sitter space is a solution to Einsteins field for the superstring community. cavity. The walls of the cavity behave equations that is negatively curved everywhere. It At about the same time as D-branes is analogous to the geometry of Escherss Angels like reecting surfaces so that nothing were discovered, another very import- and devils, in which you have to imagine that all escapes it (gure 4). the same size but that ant development took place. As I men- the angels and devils arethe negative curvature of This duality between quantum they are distorted due to tioned, the coupling constant of string space (in the same way that Mercators projection eld theory and gravity is an exact theory is not really a constant at all, of the globe misrepresents the area of continents realization of what is called the holoand in many respects it is very similar away from the equator). This figure depicts antigraphic principle. This strange printo the compactication moduli. String de Sitter space at an instant; the vertical by ciple, formulated by t Hooft and myself, dimension is time. The geometry is bounded theorists took a surprisingly long time the surface of the cylinder and the holographic grew from our debate with Hawking to make the connection, but it turns out principle states that quantum gravity in the regarding the validity of quantum methat 10D string theory is itself a Kaluza interior of the space is described by a quantum chanics in the formation and evaporfield theory, such as QCD, on the boundary. Klein compactication of an 11D theation of black holes. ory that became known as M-theory. According to the holographic prinM-theory appears to underlie all string theories (gure 2). ciple, everything that ever falls into a black hole can be The ve different versions of string theory are just different described by degrees of freedom that reside in a thin layer just ways of compactifying its 11 dimensions. But M-theory is not above the horizon. In other words, the full 3D world inside itself a string theory. It has membranes but no strings, and the the horizon can be described by the 2D degrees of freedom strings only appear when the 11th dimension is compactied. on its surface. Even more generally, it should be possible to Furthermore, the momentum in the compact 11th direction describe the physics of any region of space in terms of holo(the KaluzaKlein momentum) is identied as the number graphic degrees of freedom that reside on the boundary of of D0-branes i.e. zero-dimensional branes, or points in a that region. This leads to a drastic reduction of the number of particular type of string theory. degrees of freedom in a eld theory, and most theorists found This connection between KaluzaKlein momentum and it very hard to swallow until Maldacenas work came along. D0-branes led to another breakthrough. In 1996 myself, Tom Maldacenas duality replaces a gravitational theory in antiBanks and Steve Shenker (at Rutgers University), and Willy de Sitter space by a eld theory that lives on its boundary Fischler (at the University of Texas) realized that M-theory in a very precise way. In other words, the 3 + 1-dimensional could be cast in a form no more complicated than the quan- boundary eld theory is a holographic description of the intum mechanics of a system of non-relativistic particles, i.e. terior of 4 + 1-dimensional anti-de Sitter space. D0-branes. The resulting theory, which is called Matrix theThe D-brane revolution has been very far reaching. Matrix ory, is an exact and complete quantum theory that describes theory and the Maldacena duality are both formulations of the microscopic degrees of freedom of M-theory. As such it is quantum gravity that conform to the standard rules of quanthe rst precise formulation of a quantum theory of gravity. tum mechanics, and should therefore lay to rest any further questions about black holes violating these rules. Duality Matrix theory was just one example of how D-branes can be Googles of possibilities used to formulate a theory of quantum gravity. Soon after its I would like to end by discussing the future of string theory, discovery, Juan Maldacena, who is now at the Institute for not as a mathematical subject but as a framework for particle Advanced Study (IAS) in Princeton, came up with a new physics and cosmology. The nal evaluation of string theory direction to explore. Ed Witten of the IAS and others had will rest on its ability to explain the facts of nature, not on its previously shown that D-branes have their own dynamics. own internal beauty and consistency. String theory is well into But it turned out that the uctuations and motions of a D- its fourth decade, but so far it has not produced a detailed brane can be quantized in the form of a gauge theory that model of elementary particles or a convincing explanation of is restricted to the D-brane itself. The theory that lives on a any cosmological observation. Many of the models that are coincident collection of D3-branes, for example, is a super- based on specic methods of compactifying either 10D string 34
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QUANTUM GRAVITY theory or 11D M-theory have a good deal in common with the real world. They have bosons and fermions, for example, and gauge theories that are similar to those in the Standard Model. Furthermore, unlike any other theory, they inevitably include gravity. But the devil is in the details, and so far the details have eluded string theorists. It is, of course, possible that string theory is the wrong theory, but I believe that would be a very premature judgement and probably incorrect. The problem does not seem to be a lack of richness, but rather the opposite. String theory contains too many possibilities. For most physicists, the ideal physical theory is one that is unique and perfect, in that it determines all that can be determined and that it could not logically be any other way. In other words, it is not only a theory of everything but it is the only theory of everything. To the orthodox string theorist, the goal is to discover the one true consistent version of the theory and then to demonstrate that the solution manifests the known laws of nature, such as the Standard Model of particle physics, with its empirical set of parameters. But the more we learn about string theory the more nonunique it seems to be. There are probably millions of Calabi Yau spaces on which to compactify string theory. Each space has hundreds of moduli and hundreds of subspaces on which branes can be wrapped, uxes imposed upon and so on. A conservative estimate of the number of distinct vacua of the theory is in the googles that is, more than 10100. The space of possibilities is called the Landscape, and it is huge. To mix metaphors, it is a stupendous haystack that contains googles of straws and only one needle. Worse still, the theory itself gives us no hint about how to pick among the possibilities (see article on pp2122). This enormous variety may, however, be exactly what cosmology is looking for. A common theme among cosmologists is that the observed universe may merely be a minuscule part of a vastly bigger universe that contains many local environments, or what Alan Guth at MIT calls pocket universes. According to this view, so many pocket universes formed during the early inationary epoch each of which with its own vacuum structure that the entire landscape of possibilities is represented. The reasons for this view are not just idle speculation but are rooted in the many accidental ne-tunings that are necessary for a universe that supports life. Thus it may be that the enormous number of possible vacuum solutions, which is the bane of particle physics, may be just what the doctor ordered for cosmology. Further reading
J Maldacena 1999 The large N limit of superconformal field theories and supergravity Int. J. Theor. Phys. 38 11131133 J Polchinski 1995 Dirichlet-branes and RamondRamond charges Phys. Rev. Lett. 75 47244727 J Polchinski 1998 String Theory (volume 2): Superstring Theory and Beyond (Cambridge University Press) J H Schwarz et al. 1981 Superstring Theory (volume 1): Introduction (Cambridge University Press) A Strominger and C Vafa 1996 Microscopic origin of the BekensteinHawking entropy Phys. Lett. B 379 99104 The official string theory website: superstringtheory.com/ Leonard Susskind is in the Department of Physics, Stanford University, 382 Via Pueblo Mall, CA 94305-4060, US, e-mail susskind@stanford.edu
PHYSICS WORLD NOVEMBER 2003

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