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Einstein’s Brane

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Swaraj Dash.

2015 was the centenary of Einstein’s formulation of his gravitational field equations, inspired in part by Maxwell’s equations. In 1916 Einstein used this ``General Relativity’’ theory to predict the existence of gravitational waves, and in 1917 he applied it to the universe as a whole, thereby founding modern cosmology. For the last 30 years of his life, starting around 1925, he tried to find a ``unified field theory’’ of gravity and electromagnetism. These were all ``classical’’, Einstein didn’t attempt to incorporate quantum mechanics, and it later became apparent that there was a clash between quantum mechanics and General Relativity. This was eventually resolved by ``String Theory’’, which emerged in the mid 1970s from the ashes of an unsuccessful theory of the strong nuclear force (now explained by QCD ). By the end of the 1980s it was known that there are just five consistent string theories. In the 1990s, these were unified into ``M-theory’’, which has been described as a ``brane democracy’’ in which strings are just 1-branes. A bonus is that M-theory allows for a unification of gravity with electromagnetism and all the other forces of nature, along with the ``dark energy’’ that makes up 3/4 of the universe — originally proposed (avant la lettre) by Einstein!

This talk will attempt to explain some of the ideas of string/M-theory and to put them into a context provided by the history of unification in the 20th century and by Einstein’s ideas and accomplishments. A few equations will be mentioned but only E=mc^2 will be used.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Physics Society series.

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