cover image The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything

The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything

John R. Gribbin. Little Brown and Company, $23 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-316-32975-0

Ever since Einstein came up with the General Theory of Relativity, the Holy Grail of physics has been a ""Theory of Everything"" that would explain the behavior of all the particles and forces in nature in one set of equations. Popular science writer Gribbin tackles this quest in a thorough yet palatable primer geared to the serious reader. He starts with a clear introduction to the subatomic particle zoo (the subject of his last book, Schrodinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality). Where once protons, neutrons and electrons reigned, there is now a ""periodic table"" of particles, and physicists have to worry about a potentially infinite number of types of particles with names like W and Z bosons, red up quarks, blue down quarks, etc. From there, Gribbin moves on to supersymmetry, a theory that attempts to bring Einsteinian space-time back into the quantum-mechanical fold of contemporary particle physics. Many physicists now treat particles not as points but as strings, tiny one-dimensional entities vibrating in 10-dimensional space-time. Gribbin helps us get our bearings in a universe of 11 dimensions, and while he refrains from the cosmic speculations of, say, Paul Davies, diligent readers without any specialized knowledge of physics or mathematics will come away with a flavor of the latest ideas theorists are grappling with, including the six major rival contenders for the TOE (Theory of Everything). An appendix previews the experiments scientists are planning in their attempts to create ""little bangs,"" particle-accelerator collisions that may reveal what types of matter arose during the primal Big Bang. Overall, this is an exciting tour de force. 23 drawings. (Jan.)