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Question:
Albert Einstein's biggest disappointment was his inability to prove a unified field theory. Since his attempts, others have endeavored to succeed. Has there been any resent attempts or developments in solving the unified field riddle? If so, by whom, and what are the latest results?



Replies:
Yes, there have been a lot of recent attempts. In fact rather a flurry of books have been published on the subject recently (there is one by Leon Lederman, and I think one by Murray Gel-Mann). The main problem is that we have some vague theoretical ideas about how the unification works, but there are almost NO experimental tests that can be done right now in the region where these theories really need to be tested to distinguish which one is right. Part of the purpose of the SSC (killed by Congress) was to start probing this interesting experimental regime, to perhaps start winnowing out the many proposed theories. However, a machine with a power some billion times that of the SSC would be needed to really probe the region where things get interesting for unification (the so-called Planck scale) and that is not likely to be available anytime in the next millenium. So, yes there are plenty of theories, but unfortunately, unlike the situation with Einstein, experiments will be very necessary to decide which theory is right, and those experiments do not seem to be even on the horizon right now. The other recent book was by Weinberg, not Gel-Mann. There is an interesting review of it in last October's New York Times book supplement (forget what it is called) by Roger Penrose.

Arthur Smith



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