By Spenta R. Wadia
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26 Fig. 1. Sen Our current understanding of the building blocks of matter. all encompassing description of nature that works at large distances where gravity becomes important as well as small distances where quantum mechanics is important. In this article, I shall try to give a very general introduction to string theory. 1 However, in order to do so, I must begin by reviewing our current understanding of the basic constituents of matter. This is the subject to which we shall now turn. 2. The World of Elementary Particles According to our current understanding, everything that we see around us is made of a few elementary building blocks.
8. Sen A two-dimensional space with a compact coordinate. type of elementary particle, string theory seems to contain infinite types of elementary particles. This would be in contradiction with what we observe in nature were it not for the fact that most of these elementary particles in string theory turn out to be very heavy, and not observable in present experiments. Thus, there is no immediate conflict between what string theory predicts and what we observe in actual experiments. On the other hand, these additional heavy elementary particles are absolutely essential for getting finite answers in string theory.
These one-dimensional objects, also known as the fundamental (or elementary) strings, have very specific properties which determine the various modes in which the string can vibrate. However, to the present day experimentalists these strings appear as particles since their size is small compared to the distance scale that can be probed by the A. 36 Sen oo Fig. 6. Vibrating closed and open strings. most powerful microscopes available today. 4 In particular, different vibrational states of a fundamental string appear to us as different elementary 'particles' just as the different modes of vibration of a single musical string can produce different harmonics of a note.