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Superstring theory is a theory in theoretical physics that seeks to reconcile quantum mechanics with the theories of relativity especially in the case of gravitation. The attempt to unite these two disparate disciplines of physics has been a sort of Holy Grail that even eluded Einstein and still works to baffle scientists to this day. To deal with this a series of theories called string theories eventually arose in an attempt to achieve this comprehensive explanation of the universe’s various interactions and why they are. However there were simply too many string theories to make a conclusive theory. To achieve this there has been the attempts of many top physicists to create a superstring theory.
To understand what it all means you need to know what question string theory seeks to explain. The problem is that gravitation is a fundamental force that has two separate explanations depending on whether you use relativity or quantum mechanics. In quantum mechanics the explanation is that gravity may be the result of a fundamental particle that has not been discovered yet. This theoretical particle is known as a graviton. However the explanation of gravity is quite different when you use relativity. According to Einstein’s Theories of Relativity, gravity is actually a curve in the fabric of space time created by the mass of objects.
The goal of superstring theory was to create a frame where the two conflicting explanations can exist. The first step was that fundamental particles are not the most basic building blocks of matter. Instead all matter is made up of strings, vibrating pieces of energy. This is all within the framework of a universe that has 10 to 11 dimensions. The first four dimensions are length, width, height, and time. These are the four dimensions that we experience every day. However the two more are derivatives of time and the remainder deal with space. So in essence all dimensions are expressions of the simple strings that are the basic building blocks.
The main problem facing superstring theory is that strings have been proposed to act in at least 5 different ways. These different theories all seemingly conflict with one another. One attempt at uniting was M theory. However many of these theories are still only conjecture. The biggest problem is that superstring theory is still theoretical. Little physical evidence has been found to support it.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about the String Theory. Listen here, Episode 31: String Theory, Time Travel, White Holes, Warp Speed, Multiple Dimensions and Before the Big Bang.