Oliver Thewalt

    Oliver Thewalt

    Theoretical Physics | Quantum Biology | Dark Matter Research Cluster


    Strings and M-Theory by Stephen Hawking

    Strings and M-Theory


    by Stephen Hawking


    In the 1990's the subject formerly known as `string theory' evolved into something else, which has now


    become known as `M-theory.' M-theory is a circle of ideas connecting strings, quantum gravity, unification


    of forces, duality, Kaluza-Klein theory, Yang-Mills theory, and supersymmetry. While the fundamental


    principles of M-theory are still unclear, our picture of the subject has evolved rapidly in recent years.


    M-theory has the distinction of being the only approach to quantum gravity which has succeeded both in


    tying itself firmly to our classical understanding of gravity (albeit in 10 or 11 dimensions) and in addressing


    non-perturbative quantum issues such as the entropy of black holes. (See Classical and Quantum Gravity


    for other approaches to quantum gravity.) To some researchers M-theory is a candidate for a `theory of


    everything' which would underlie all of the structures in our universe. W hether or not this is the case, there


    is no doubt that M -theory is an active arena for the development of ideas in quantum gravity, cosmology,


    and field theory.


    M-theory and the physics of p-branes


    String theory used to be a theory of, well, strings. In the not so recent past one could hear string theorists


    state that the fundamental principle of string theory was that the things we think of as particles (electrons,


    photons, gravitons, etc.) are in reality extended objects that look lik e closed vibrating loops of string. All


    distinctions between the particles would derive from the association of each particle with a different normal


    mode of vibration.


    The picture is now quite different. In addition to strings, M-theory contains a zoo of higher dimensional


    objects; e.g. 2-dimensional membranes (aka 2-branes), 3-dimensional `3-branes', etc. An object with p


    spatial dimensions is known as a p-brane. These branes are now thought to be as fundamental as the


    famous `fundamental string.' Indeed, the various branes are related to fundamental strings by powerful


    symmetries (known as dualities). Furthermore, under certain conditions the various branes can


    dynamically transform into each other as well as into fundamental strings. As a result, the physics of


    p-branes has played an increasingly important role in the understanding of M-theory as a whole.


    It turns out that p-branes are far more complicated objects than are strings. One therefore uses a variety


    of techniques to study them, each of which applies in a different region of parameter space. These


    include string perturbation theory, brane effective actions, and supergravity techniques. By splicing


    together these pictures, researchers obtain new insights into brane dynamics and the theory in which they




    At Syracuse, such studies are pursued mainly using supergravity physics and the related brane effective


    actions. The basic idea here is that the branes of M-theory are related to higher-dimensional


    generalizations of black holes. A review by Don Marolf provides an introduction for students with a


    background in general relativity.


    The Maldacena Conjecture (AdS/CFT)


    Perhaps the m ost shocking outgrowth of the physics of branes has been the Maldacena conjecture. T his


    conjecture states that M-theory subject to particular boundary conditions is in fact equivalent to some


    supersymmetric Yang-Mills (i.e., non-gravitational!) theory on a manifold of smaller dimension! One


    example is the so-called AdS/CFT correspondence, in which string theory with boundary conditions


    matching the ten-dimensional manifold given by the product of 4+1 Anti-DeSitter space and a five-sphere


    (AdS5 x S5) is conjectured to be equivalent to 3+1-dimensional super Yang-Mills theory, a


    four-dimensional conformal field theory (CFT). This surprising idea follows from certain arguments


    involving taking the low energy limit of D-brane physics from both the spacetime (gravitating) point of view


    and from the point of view of string perturbation theory. Unfortunately, no version of this conjecture is


    currently known which would apply to asym ptotically flat spacetimes (such as Minkowski space)..


    Although the conjecture has not yet been proven, an impressive variety of supporting evidence has been


    obtained. These range from the classification of linearized perturbations to calculations of black hole


    entropy (see below). Another piece of such evidence stems from the studies of gravitating branes


    mentioned above. Marolf and Sumati Surya (a past Syracuse student, now at UBC) used supergravity


    techniques to uncover certain links between brane physics and black hole no-hair theorems. This work


    was then extended by Marolf and Amanda Peet (Toronto) and the Maldacena conjecture was used to


    suggest a `dual version' of the effect in the super Yang-Mills quantum field theory description. By showing


    that quantitative information governing the no-hair phenomenon was reproduced by the appropriate


    quantum field theory calculation, they added a new piece of evidence in support of the Maldacena


    conjecture and refined the `dictionary' that translates between the gravitating and non-gravitating sides of


    the correspondence.


    The correspondence can also be used in the other direction. As an example, Marolf and Peet turned


    their arguments around to predict certain gravitational features of branes. Supporting evidence for these


    predictions was then found by Marolf, Andres Gomberoff (then a postdoc at Syracuse, now at CECS),


    David Kastor (U. Mass) and Jennie Traschen (U. Mass). A more detailed analysis using numerical


    techniques is now being pursued in conjunction with Pablo Laguna (Penn State).


    However, this phenomenon may yet have more more to teach us. Marolf and Pedro Silva are exploring


    this possibility by investigating the relationship between the above no-hair results and non-abelian D-brane


    effective actions, which is another story in itself.


    Field Theory and Non-Commutative Geom etry


    Recently, it has been shown that field theories on so-called non-commutative spaces also play a role in


    M-theory and shed light on interesting questions of brane dynamics. A non-commutative geometry is an


    algebraic generalization of a manifold (with metric) in which the coordinates do not commute. As an


    example, one could roughly refer to a quantum mechanical Hilbert space as a non-commutative phase


    space. At Syracuse, the study of non-commutative geometry has been pursued for some time by A. P.


    Balachandran and by Kamesh W ali. Be sure to read the corresponding entry under Elementary Particles


    and Fields for a description of this work.


    Black Holes and Quantum Mechanics in M-theory


    Black holes have long been a focal point for studies of quantum gravity. In part, this stems from


    dimensional analysis which suggests that the fundamental physics of quantum gravity takes place at the


    Plank scale, roughly 10-35 meters. The fact that quantum fluctuations in vacuum energy can create black


    holes at this scale suggests that the fundamental structure m ay be a `soup of virtual black holes,'


    sometimes known as `spacetime foam.' The other reason for the focus on black holes is the intriguing


    phenomenon of Hawking radiation, first uncovered by Stephen Hawking in the early 1970's. Although it is


    not possible for any energy to escape from a black hole in classical physics, quantum effects cause black


    holes to radiate like black bodies. The corresponding temperature is tiny for everyday black holes, but is


    large for tiny Plank scale Schwarzschild black holes. Since black holes have a temperature, they also


    have an entropy, which turns out to be enormous but finite and an intense point of discussion. The


    tension between the classical notion of causality (which is, after all, what determines that nothing can


    escape from a black hole) and Hawking radiation also suggests that quantum gravity effects may cause a


    fundamental shift in our understanding of space and time. The study of such issues sometimes goes


    under the heading of `the information paradox,' which refers to the issue of whether information that


    enters a black hole can in fact leave again through quantum processes.


    String (or M-) theory provides a number of tools that can be used to study the quantum physics of black


    holes. (Be sure to also read the discussion of black holes and quantum mechanics under Classical and


    Quantum Gravity.) One of the most powerful has been the use of D-brane techniques. D-branes are


    non-perturbative objects around which string perturbation theory can still describe physics. In this context


    they are well known as places where strings can end. Placing enough D-branes together can create a


    black hole. As first described by Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa, string techniques then predict


    certain properties of this black hole. In particular, such m ethods have been used to successfully calculate


    both Hawking radiation from the hole and the entropy of these black holes. These are the only known


    techniques through which one can precisely predict the entropy of a black hole by counting m icroscopic


    states. Interestingly, such calculations are done in a regime in which no horizon exists -- supersymmetry


    is used to extrapolate the res ult to honest black holes. As a res ult, m any fundamental questions rem ain


    and are the subject of on-going research. Marolf has participated [1,2,3] in the use of D-brane techniques


    to probe black hole entropy and inform ation and continues to address such issues, e.g. recent work with


    Jorma Louko (Nottingham ) and Simon Ross (Durham).


    A related topic is the idea of `holography,' which suggests that a fundamental description of an n+1


    dimensional spacetime may in fact be through an n-dimensional theory (or, more properly, and (n-1)+1


    dimensional theory). T his idea was originally suggested by Lenny Susskind, W illy Fischler, Gerard t'Hooft,


    and others motivated by the fact that the entropy of black holes scales with their surface area instead of


    their volume. Assuming that the Maldacena conjecture is correct, it provides a striking implementation of


    this idea.


    A particular version of holography is known as the Bousso conjecture. W hile less sweeping (and less


    precise) than the Maldacena conjecture, it has the advantage that it can in fact apply to general


    spacetimes which need not satisfy special boundary conditions. A rough statement of Bousso's


    conjecture is that the entropy flux through any null surface is bounded by the area of this null surface. In a


    recent paper, Marolf, Eanna Flanagan (Cornell), and Robert W ald (Chicago) were able to prove that this


    bound in fact follows from conventional Einstein gravity in the appropriate semi-classical setting.


    String Cosmology


    Mark Bowick, Mark Trodden, Joel Rozowsky and Salah Nasri are studying elements of superstring


    cosmology. In particular they are interested in the issue of the dimensionality of spacetime.


    Nonperturbative effects from geometry


    An important feature of M-theory is that, at least in certain regimes, it is properly described as an


    eleven-dim ensional theory. This is in contrast to the original string theory which lives in ten dimensions.


    These descriptions of the theory are related through the process of Kaluza-Klein reduction, where a higher


    dimensional theory can be made to seem like a lower dimensional theory containing extra fields. The ten


    dimensional description arises when one of the eleven dimensions is a circle whose size is small enough


    to be ignored.


    The original formulation of string theory in terms of the scattering of quantum strings m akes use of a small


    parameter known as the string coupling, g. This description is inherently tied to a perturbative expansion


    in powers of g. Now, the string coupling turns out to be related to the size of the tiny circle that constitutes


    the eleventh dimension. Small g arises for small circles while large g arises for large circles.


    For large g, one may consider situations in which quantum effects are small so that one can use classical


    eleven-dimensional gravity to accurately describe the physics. While the description in terms of string


    scattering is inherently perturbative, eleven-dimensional gravity is not. Thus, one can use properties of


    eleven-dimensional gravity to obtain non-perturbative information about M-theory. In some cases, one


    can use supersymmetry to argue that classically derived conclusions also remain valid when quantum


    mechanics is tak en into account.


    An excellent example of this kind of result is the Kaluza-Klein monopole, discovered by Rafael Sorkin long


    before the days of M-theory. This is a stable solution to the 4+1-dimensional Einstein equations whose


    3+1-dimensional description is as a magnetic monopole in gravity coupled to an electromagnetic field (and


    a scalar field). While magnetic monopoles are singular, in this case the singularity is merely an artifact of


    the 3+1-dimensional description. The 4+1 description is a perfectly smooth spacetime. Thus, the higher


    dimensional geometry implies that such a theory does in fact contain magnetic monopoles.


    Kaluza-Klein monopoles (generalized to 9+1 and 10+1 dimensions) continue to be of im portance in


    M-theory, and in fact they have the sam e status as the p-branes described above. The monopoles are


    related to various branes by the duality symmetries of M-theory, and in fact one D-brane can described as


    a Kaluza-Klein monopole in eleven dimensions. An example of how these monopoles can be used to


    derive non-perturbative effects in string theory can be found in a recent paper by M arolf which uses their


    eleven-dim ensional geometry to resolve certain issues involving charge quantization. The monopole


    geometry makes a single brane (known as a M2-brane) in eleven dimensions appear as a pair of


    D-branes in ten dimensions. Not surprisingly, these two branes must always remain attached to each


    other. This leads to a phenomenon in which certain external fields cause D-branes to be confined in


    pairs. Further studies of Kaluza-Klein monopoles and other aspects of eleven-dimensional geom etry are


    certain to uncover additional effects that are invisible to string perturbation theory