John Gribbin, an astrophysicist and prolific popular science writer, completes his fascinating story of particle physics with the same zeal and vigor he exhibited in In Search of the Big Bang (1998). With characteristic erudition and lucidity, he recounts the history of his subject from Democritus’s atomic theory in fourth century B.C. to dazzling excursions into the bizarre subatomic world in the 1990’s in The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything.
From the moment that Albert Einstein expressed optimism about such an elusive single explanation, particle physicists have been in search of a Grand Unified Theory—“the theory of everything”—which explains the interaction of all forces and particles in one coherent mathematical formulation.
The layperson probably does not know what these dazzling metaphorical creatures are, but physicists think a correct mathematical rendering will give them concrete reality. Gribbin is optimistic that theories of superstrings and supersymmetry will be confirmed by 2010. He believes we are on the verge of another “Deep Truth.” Superstring theory well may be the major breakthrough needed to discover it.
Superstrings, the latest and most powerful metaphor, is the hypothesis that winding curves of energy, rather than the conventional particles, are better suited to explain the interaction of forces in the universe and that these subatomic strings of energy do not obey Newtonian absolute laws; rather they obey the laws of probability in the high-energy world of quantum electrodynamics, where uncertainty rules supreme.
Gribbin, like Stephen Hawking, writes with astute pedagogical skill, transforming esoteric and inaccessible scientific exotica into accessible and pleasurable prose without sacrificing rigor or scholarship.