Brian Greene – author of The Elegant Universe
The Elegant Universe is a three-hour PBS NOVA mniseries featuring bestselling author-physicist Brian Greene. This is an ambitious (and to my mind very successful and easily viewable) creation from the runaway bestselling book of the same name by Greene. Greene is professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, where he is one of the world’s foremost string theorists. He has the extraordinary ability to make what could be an incomprehensible subject highly entertaining.
The Elegant Universe is all about the much discussed “theory of everything,” (or these days more commonly refered to as string theory) which even Einstein had problems with. “Also known as superstring theory, the startling idea proposes that the fundamental ingredients of nature are inconceivably tiny strings of energy, whose different modes of vibration underlie everything that happens in the universe. The theory successfully unites the laws of the large—general relativity—and the laws of the small—quantum mechanics—breaking a conceptual logjam that has frustrated the world’s smartest scientists for nearly a century.”
If string theory proves correct, the reality we experience obscures a universe far more complex than previously imagined – a universe with many hidden dimensions or that may be but one of many parallel universes continuously and eternally moving in and out of existence.
“Program One – The Elegant Universe: Einstein’s Dream – introduces string theory and shows how modern physics—being composed of two theories that are ferociously incompatible—reached its schizophrenic impasse: one theory, known as general relativity, is fantastically successful in describing big things like stars and galaxies, and another, called quantum mechanics, is equally successful in describing small things like atoms and subatomic particles.”
Albert Einstein, famouns for his thoery of general relativity, tried to finding a single theory that would cover what is a major conflict between general relativity and quantum mechanics. It eluded him, and until string theory was discovered, there was no “theory of everything”..
“Program Two – The Elegant Universe: String’s the Thing – opens with a whimsical scene in a movie theater in which the history of the universe is run backwards to the big bang, the moment at which general relativity and quantum mechanics both come into play, and therefore the point at which our conventional model of reality breaks down. Then it’s string theory to the rescue as Greene describes the serendipitous steps that led from a forgotten 200-year-old mathematical formula to the first glimmerings of strings—quivering strands of energy whose different vibrations give rise to quarks, electrons, photons, and all other elementary particles.”
Accroging to this theory, strings are extremely small – much much smaller than an atom. But, as the series explains, they do offer the first-ever explanation of the nature of things that embraces both the large and the small. Strangely, strings require more than our familiar space/time dimensions – ten In fact.
“Program Three – The Elegant Universe: Welcome to the 11th Dimension – shows how in 1995 Edward Witten of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, aided by others, revolutionized string theory by successfully uniting the five different versions into a single theory that is cryptically named “M-theory,” a development which required a total of eleven dimensions. Ten…eleven…who’s counting? But the new eleventh dimension is different from all the others, since it implies that strings can come in higher dimensional shapes called membranes, or “branes” for short. These have truly science-fiction-like qualities, since in principle they can be as large as the universe. A brane can even be a universe—a parallel universe—and we may be living on one right now.”
This NOVA feature has been broadcast on various dates beginning in 2003 and as recently as March 2006. For more on information on the series, visit The Elegant Universe.
footer for elegant universe page