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String Theory Confronts Experiment?

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  • String Theory Confronts Experiment?

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 13 - The Universe on a Brane
    String Theory Confronts Experiment?
    The possibility that we are living within a large three-brane is, of course, just that: a possibility. And, within the braneworld scenario, the possibility that the extra dimensions could be much larger than once thought — and the related possibility that strings could also be much larger than once thought — are also just that: possibilities. But they are tremendously exciting possibilities. True, even if the braneworld scenario is right, the extra dimensions and the string size could still be Planckian. But the possibility within string/M-theory for strings and the extra dimensions to be much larger — to be just beyond the reach of today's technology — is fantastic. It means that there is at least a chance that in the next few years, string/ M-theory will make contact with observable physics and become an experimental science.

    How big a chance? I don't know, and nor does anyone else. My intuition tells me it's unlikely, but my intuition is informed by a decade and a half of working within the conventional framework of Planck-sized strings and Planck-sized extra dimensions. Perhaps my instincts are old-fashioned. Thankfully, the question will be settled without the slightest concern for anyone's intuition. If the strings are big, or if some of the extra dimensions are big, the implications for upcoming experiments are spectacular.

    In the next chapter, we'll consider a variety of experiments that will test, among other things, the possibilities of comparatively large strings and large extra dimensions, so here I will just whet your appetite. If strings are as large as a billionth of a billionth (10^-18) of a meter, the particles corresponding to the higher harmonic vibrations in Figure 12.4 will not have enormous masses, in excess of the Planck mass, as in the standard scenario. Instead, their masses will be only a thousand to a few thousand times that of a proton, and that's low enough to be within reach of the Large Hadron Collider now being built at CERN. If these string vibrations were to be excited through high-energy collisions, the accelerator's detectors would light up like the Times Square crystal ball on New Year's Eve. A whole host of never-before-seen particles would be produced, and their masses would be related to one another's much as the various harmonics are related on a cello. String theory's signature would be etched across the data with a flourish that would have impressed John Hancock. Researchers wouldn't be able to miss it, even without their glasses.

    Moreover, in the braneworld scenario, high-energy collisions might even produce — get this — miniature black holes. Although we normally think of black holes as gargantuan structures out in deep space, it's been known since the early days of general relativity that if you crammed enough matter together in the palm of your hand, you'd create a tiny black hole. This doesn't happen because no one's grip — and no mechanical device — is even remotely strong enough to exert a sufficient compression force. Instead, the only accepted mechanism for black hole production involves the gravitational pull of an enormously massive star's overcoming the outward pressure normally exerted by the star's nuclear fusion processes, causing the star to collapse in on itself. But if gravity's intrinsic strength on small scales is far greater than previously thought, tiny black holes could be produced with significantly less compression force than previously believed. Calculations show that the Large Hadron Collider may have just enough squeezing power to create a cornucopia of microscopic black holes through high-energy collisions between protons. 7 Think about how amazing that would be. The Large Hadron Collider might turn out to be a factory for producing microscopic black holes! These black holes would be so small and would last for such a short time that they wouldn't pose us the slightest threat (years ago, Stephen Hawking showed that all black holes disintegrate via quantum processes — big ones very slowly, tiny ones very quickly), but their production would provide confirmation of some of the most exotic ideas ever contemplated.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-14-2012, 08:28 PM.