String Theory for the Scientifically Curious

Public outreach talk
Amanda Peet, University of Toronto

[Amanda Peet's avatar]


CFI Ontario, 216 Beverley St, Toronto
Friday 26th February 2010 at 7pm until 9pm
Free for members / $4 students / $6 general



For laypeople

For university physics students


String theory, a part of modern theoretical physics, has wiggled its way into the popular consciousness during the past decade. While the details are technically complicated, the basic idea is stunningly simple - that the fundamental Lego blocks making up matter and force are tiny vibrating strings (rather than infinitely small particles). Some people presenting string theory to the public, like Brian Greene, emphasize its mathematical beauty. By contrast, this presentation will focus on the powerful physics motivations for the invention and development of string theory.

Ideas on the menu will include: explaining the epic clash between quantum mechanics and general relativity, string theory basics, extra dimensions of space, D-branes and duality, the LHC, the origin and ultimate fate of the universe, and the black hole information paradox. This presentation will be largely self-contained; no physics or math background will be assumed, other than a layperson's curiosity about physical science. Interested 11th and 12th grade high school students are welcome.

Warning! Skeptical humanists often consider it their duty to react to any unfamiliar scientific idea with skepticism. That attitude is unwise, because it profoundly discounts the role of expertise. Accordingly, the centre of gravity of this presentation will be the *science* of string theory. Questions about its "truth" or perceived similarity to "religion", or parrotting of critical views by outsiders like Lee Smolin, will be entertained only after all scientific questions have been answered. Genuine queries about the science will be warmly welcomed and answered, regardless of the sophistication of the questioner.

Amanda Peet is a Professor of Physics and a Fellow of Trinity College at the University of Toronto. They hold a B.Sc.(Hons) from the University of Canterbury and a Ph.D. from Stanford University. Their awards include a Radcliffe Fellowship from Harvard University and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship. They were one of the string theorists interviewed in the three-part NOVA PBS documentary "Elegant Universe". They grew up in the South Pacific island nation of Aotearoa/New Zealand and have a web site at ap.io/home.