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Felippa Amanta

UNICEF USA

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Can anyone explain to me what 'string theory' is?

I know this is a stupid question, but I've heard about string theory many times, but have no clue what it really is. Please understand I have very little background in physic. Do you have a good explanation about what it is and why it matters a lot in our universe? Thanks!

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  • May 23 2012: I'm no expert but my understanding is that string theory is trying to get to the smallest scale of physical matter. Originally atoms were thought to be the smallest particles of matter, but then we discovered protons, neutrons and electrons and then quarks, bosons, fermions etc. String theory suggests that electrons and quarks (which have been thought to be dimensionless objects) are actually vibrating one dimensional 'strings' that are the fundamental units of all matter and forces. It is a mathematical model rather than based on actual observation though, as there are inherent difficulties with trying to observe matter on that scale. The main benefit is that it allows for quantum field theory to be consistent with general relativity. I hope that makes some sense and actually helps.
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      May 23 2012: Thanks for your answer, Paul.
      It makes a lot of sense to me. I can start to imagine the idea of it.
      Funny thing is, I just came out of my physic class which still explains how atoms are the smallest of all. This new revelation about the String Theory changes the way I think! Once again, thanks :)
      • May 24 2012: Well, most of the world we interact with can be explained very well by saying that protons, neutrons, and electrons (the building blocks of atoms) are the smallest things. You can get through 4 years of Chemical Engineering which is heavy on Physics and Chemistry without having to talk about Quarks.

        Get a handle on whatever physics class you're in. After you get through Mechanics and E&M, you'll be better equipped to start looking into some of this other stuff, but String Theory is really the end of the line on this stuff. Pick up Hawking's "Brief HIstory of Time", it's a good read and it goes a long way to introducing you to the more exotic stuff. Or go and find anything and everything by Neil DeGrasse Tyson when he's talking, he's electric. Brian Cox is also good at explaining things, take a gander at his stuff on here, or a 1 hour special he did in Britain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4f9wcSLs8ZQ
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          May 24 2012: Yeah I really love Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Michio Kaku is also my favorite.
          Thanks for the recommendation :)
          How about Hawking's The Grand Design? Which is better for a starter?

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