There were a couple of string theory stories in New Scientist last week. I forgot to mention them earlier. One is entitled “What string theory is really good for”, by Jessica Griggs. The other is entitled “Why cats fail to grasp string theory”, by Ewen Callaway.
Well, since cats are involved, of course I’m going to start with an extract from the second (even though it is obvious that the cats are deliberately skewing the results):
[...] Osthaus’s team attached fish or biscuit treats to one end of a string. A plastic screen with a small gap at the bottom separated cats from their reward, requiring the felines to tug on the string to get the treat.
With a single string attached to the food, most cats learned to paw at the string to get a snack. But when Osthaus’ team introduced a second piece of string, [...]
Well, that was to pique your interest. You’ll have to go off to the source article to get to grips of this second piece of stringy research. The first article? It’s a discussion of some of the things I’ve been telling you about in recent times. Applications of string theory to various pieces of physics in a wider realm of physics than you normally hear string theory being discussed. There’s a lot of excitement about the usefulness of various techniques in string theory for understanding certain aspects of nuclear physics being experimentally probed, and also growing excitement about possible string theory approaches to a variety of systems in condensed matter physics. Let me point you to the posts surrounding that symposium in which I co-presented in Chicago at the AAAS, and look at the links within. (See here and here. See also here and here.)
The article does a summary of some of the ideas that have led up to the techniques we’re using, and is not bad reading, on balance. Have a look if you’re interested in summaries of this type and want to get an idea (supplementary to what I’ve been mentioning here) of what’s been going on.
Actually, in that vein, these last two weeks (and the one coming up) has seen an excellent set of workshops here at the Aspen Center For Physics. Two of them in particular “String Duals of Finite Temperature and Low-Dimensional Systems” and “Quantum Simulation/Computation with Cold Atoms and Molecules” have resulted in a lot of really excellent dialogue between people doing string theory and people doing condensed matter physics. We’ve been learning each other’s language, and some of each other’s techniques. The hope is, for some of us, that there will be new things to learn from a string theory approach to some of the tough problems showing up in these kinds of experimental and theoretical contexts. Here’s an extract from the organizers’ synopsis of the string workshop:
The past few years have seen exciting extensions and applications of the AdS/CFT correspondence to string duals of non-equilibrium processes in systems at finite temperature and chemical potential, of phase transitions in gauge theories with matter or impurities, and of strongly-coupled low-dimensional fixed point theories. These developments have served both to provide insights into the dynamics of the field theories and to sharpen the gauge-gravity dictionary. This Aspen workshop will bring together in an informal environment physicists interested in discussing and extending these developments. Some of the many topics that we expect to discuss include the properties of quarks and mesons in gauge plasmas, hydrodynamics of strongly coupled fluids, chiral symmetry breaking in QCD-like theories, and dual models of superconductivity, Quantum Hall fluids, etc.
Some Related Asymptotia Posts (not exhaustive):