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Sunday, January 07, 2001

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Stringing together the ultimate law

By Our Science Correspondent

MUMBAI, JAN. 6. It was an opportunity to hear it in the words of the persons who are making it happen: some of the world's top theoretical physicists explaining why the String Theory is creating waves. The theory may well provide the ultimate law of nature, a single law which unifies all basic physical phenomena. ``We are in the middle of a scientific revolution and the best is yet to come,'' remarked one of them.

They took time off from the Strings 2001 international conference for the press conference this afternoon. Dr. John Schwarz of the California Institute of Technology was among the pioneering physicists to be convinced that the String Theory would provide the route to the unified theory which physicists have been seeking. Dr. David Gross of the University of California at Santa Barbara and Dr. Edward Witten of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton have both played key roles in taking String Theory forward.

Dr. Ashoke Sen of the Harish-Chandra Research Institute at Allahabad has made several important contributions to the String Theory and some of his work is a major focus of the present conference.

The presence of Dr. Stephen Hawking, a celebrity scientist, is perhaps proof of the power of this theory. Although he has been skeptical about the String Theory, even he acknowledges its capacity to explain certain aspects of the working of black holes, those mysterious celestial bodies which don't allow even light to escape.

Also present were the three faculty members of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research who are the conference coordinators. Dr. Spenta Wadia was the first string theorist in India, Dr. Sunil Mukhi was among the earliest contributors to the theory from India and Dr. Atish Dabholkar is one of the youngest string theorists in the country.

The complicated mathematics of the String Theory was explored in the 1960s for a very different purpose, Dr. John Schwarz said. When the theory was found to be capable of deriving the fundamental particle responsible for gravity, physicists began to explore whether it could be used to unify gravity with the other forces in a single theoretical framework.

The String Theory was not yet able to provide such a unified theory, admitted Dr. David Gross. ``We are only in the middle of the task.'' But the theory was forcing us to confront cherished values about natural world, especially space and time.

The String Theory had been able to provide novel insights into the internal states of certain black holes and thereby into the phenomenon of `Hawking Radiation', observed Dr. Spenta Wadia. ``I agree,'' said Dr. Hawking, who was the first to predict that black holes might, in fact, be giving off a faint radiation which has been named after him.

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