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Sticky Branes and Vibrating Strings

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  • Sticky Branes and Vibrating Strings

    THE FABRIC of the COSMOS, Brian Greene, 2004
    ```(annotated and with added bold highlights by Epsilon=One)
    Chapter 13 - The Universe on a Brane
    Sticky Branes and Vibrating Strings
    One of the motivations for introducing the term "M-theory" is that we now realize that "string theory" highlights but one of the theory's many ingredients. Theoretical studies revealed one-dimensional strings decades before more refined analyses discovered the higher-dimensional branes, so "string theory" is something of an historical artifact. But, even though M-theory exhibits a democracy in which extended objects of a variety of dimensions are represented, strings still play a central role in our current formulation. In one way this is immediately clear. When all the higher-dimensional p-branes are much heavier than strings, they can be ignored, as researchers had done unknowingly since the 1970s. But there is another, more general way in which strings are first among equals.

    In 1995, shortly after Witten announced his breakthrough, Joe Polchinski of the University of California at Santa Barbara got to thinking. Years earlier, in a paper he had written with Robert Leigh and Jin Dai, Polchinski had discovered an interesting though fairly obscure feature of string theory. Polchinski's motivation and reasoning were somewhat technical and the details are not essential to our discussion, but his results are. He found that in certain situations the endpoints of open strings — remember, these are string segments with two loose ends — would not be able to move with complete freedom. Instead, just as a bead on a wire is free to move, but must follow the wire's contour, and just as a pinball is free to move, but must follow the contours of the pinball table's surface, the endpoints of an open string would be free to move but would be restricted to particular shapes or contours in space. While the string would still be free to vibrate, Polchinski and his collaborators showed that its endpoints would be "stuck" or "trapped" within certain regions.

    In some situations, the region might be one-dimensional, in which case the string's endpoints would be like two beads sliding on a wire, with the string itself being like a cord connecting them. In other situations, the region might be two-dimensional, in which case the endpoints of the string would be very much like two pinballs connected by a cord, rolling around a pinball table. In yet other situations, the region might have three, four, or any other number of spatial dimensions less than ten. These results, as shown by Polchinski and also by Petr Hofava and Michael Green, helped resolve a long-standing puzzle in the comparison of open and closed strings, but over the years, the work attracted limited attention. 5 In October 1995, when Polchinski finished rethinking these earlier insights in light of Witten's new discoveries, that changed.

    A question that Polchinski's earlier paper left without a complete answer is one that may have occurred to you while reading the last paragraph: If the endpoints of open strings are stuck within a particular region of space, what is it that they are stuck to? Wires and pinball machines have a tangible existence independent of the beads or balls that are constrained to move along them. What about the regions of space to which the endpoints of open strings are constrained? Are they filled with some independent and fundamental ingredient of string theory, one that jealously clutches open string endpoints? Prior to 1995, when string theory was thought to be a theory of strings only, there didn't seem to be any candidate for the job. But after Witten's breakthrough and the torrent of results it inspired, the answer became obvious to Polchinski: if the endpoints of open strings are restricted to move within some p-dimensional region of space, then that region of space must be occupied by a p-brane.* His calculations showed that the newly discovered p-branes had exactly the right properties to be the objects that exert an unbreakable grip on open string endpoints, constraining them to move within the p-dimensional region of space they fill.

    Figure 13.2 (a) Open strings with endpoints attached to two-dimensional branes, or two-branes. (b) Strings stretching from one two-brane to another. (c) Strings stretching from a two-brane to a one-brane.

    To get a better sense for what this means, look at Figure 13.2. In (a), we see a couple of two-branes with a slew of open strings moving around and vibrating, all with their endpoints restricted to motion along their respective branes. Although it is increasingly difficult to draw, the situation with higher-dimensional branes is identical. Open string endpoints can move freely on and within the p-brane, but they can't leave the brane itself. When it comes to the possibility of motion off a brane, branes are the stickiest things imaginable. It's also possible for one end of an open string to be stuck to one p-brane and its other end to be stuck to a different p-brane, one that may have the same dimension as the first (Figure 13.2b) or may not (Figure 13.2c).

    To Witten's discovery of the connection between the various string theories, Polchinski's new paper provided a companion manifesto for the second superstring revolution. While some of the great minds of twentieth-century theoretical physics had struggled and failed to formulate a theory containing fundamental ingredients with more dimensions than dots (zero dimensions) or strings (one dimension), the results of Witten and Polchinski, together with important insights of many of today's leading researchers, revealed the path to progress. Not only did these physicists establish that string/M-theory contains higher-dimensional ingredients, but Polchinski's insights in particular provided a means for analyzing their detailed physical properties theoretically (should they prove to exist). The properties of a brane, Polchinski argued, are to a large extent captured by the properties of the vibrating open strings whose endpoints it contains. Just as you can learn a lot about a carpet by running your hand through its pile — the snippets of wool whose endpoints are attached to the carpet backing — many qualities of a brane can be determined by studying the strings whose endpoints it clutches.

    That was a paramount result. It showed that decades of research that produced sharp mathematical methods to study one-dimensional
    objects — strings — could be used to study higher-dimensional objects, p-branes. Wonderfully, then, Polchinski revealed that the analysis of higher-dimensional objects was reduced, to a large degree, to the thoroughly familiar, if still hypothetical, analysis of strings. It's in this sense that strings are special among equals. If you understand the behavior of strings, you're a long way toward understanding the behavior of p-branes.

    With these insights, let's now return to the braneworld scenario — the possibility that we're all living out our lives within a three-brane.
    *The more precise name for these stick entities is Dirichlet-p-branes, or D-p-branes for short. We will stick with the shorter p-brane.
    Last edited by Reviewer; 10-14-2012, 08:20 PM.