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A First Course in String Theory Hardcover – 22 Jan 2009
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'A refreshingly different approach to string theory that requires remarkably little previous knowledge of quantum theory or relativity. This highlights fundamental features of the theory that make it so radically different from theories based on point-like particles. This book makes the subject amenable to undergraduates but it will also appeal greatly to beginning researchers who may be overwhelmed by the standard textbooks.' Michael Green, University of Cambridge
'Barton Zwiebach has written a careful and thorough introduction to string theory that is suitable for a full-year course at the advanced undergraduate level. There has been much demand for a book about string theory at this level, and this one should go a long way towards meeting that demand.' John Schwarz, California Institute of Technology
'There is a great curiosity about string theory, not only among physics undergraduates but also among professional scientists outside of the field. This audience needs a text that goes much further than the popular accounts but without the full technical detail of a graduate text. Zwiebach's book meets this need in a clear and accessible manner. It is well-grounded in familiar physical concepts, and proceeds through some of the most timely and exciting aspects of the subject.' Joseph Polchinski, University of California, Santa Barbara
'Zwiebach, a respected researcher in the field and a much beloved teacher at MIT, is truly faithful to his goal of making string theory accessible to advanced undergraduates – the test develops intuition before formalism, usually through simplified and illustrative examples … Zwiebach avoids the temptation of including topics that would weigh the book down and make many students rush it back to the shelf and quit the course.' Physics Today
'… well-written … takes us through the hottest topics in string theory research, requiring only a solid background in mechanics and some basic quantum mechanics. … This is not just one more text in the ever-growing canon of popular books on string theory …' The Times Higher Education Supplement
'… the book provides an excellent basis for an introductory course on string theory and is well-suited for self-study by graduate students or any physicist who wants to learn the basics of string theory.' Zentralblatt MATH
'… excellent introduction by Zwiebach… aimed at advanced undergraduates who have some background in quantum mechanics and special relativity, but have not necessarily mastered quantum field theory and general relativity yet … the book … is a very thorough introduction to the subject … Equipped with this background, the reader can safely start to tackle the books by Green, Schwarz and Witten and by Polchinski.' Marcel L. Vonk, Mathematical Reviews Clippings
Zwiebach is once again faithful to his goal of making string theory accessible to undergraduates. This text now includes AdS/CFT correspondence, as well introducing superstrings. With almost 300 problems and exercises it is perfectly suited for introductory courses for students with a background in physics.See all Product description
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In the first chapter, he explains, “Despite the large number of particles it describes, the Standard Model [of particle physics] is reasonably elegant and very powerful. As a complete theory of physics, however, it has two significant shortcomings. The first one is that it does not include gravity. The second one is that it has about twenty parameters that cannot be calculated within its framework. Perhaps the simplest example of such a parameter is the dimensionless (or unit-less) ratio of the mass of the muon to the mass of the electron. The value of this ratio is about 207, and it must be put into the model by hand.” (Pg. 5)
He continues, “Most physicists believe the Standard Model is only a step towards the formulation of a complete theory of physics. A large number of physicists also suspect that some unification of the weak and strong forces into a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) will prove to be correct… Another attractive possibility is that a more complete version of the Standard Model includes super symmetry… While the above extensions of the Standard Model may or may not occur, it is clear that the inclusion of gravity into the particle physics framework is not optional. Gravity must be included… if one is to have a complete theory… There is, however, a major problem when one attempts to incorporate gravitational physics into the Standard Model. The Standard Model is a quantum theory, while Einstein’s general relativity is a classical theory. It seems very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to have a consistent theory that is partly quantum and partly classical. Given the successes of quantum theory, it is widely believed that gravity must be turned into a quantum theory…As a practical matter, in many circumstances once can work confidently with classical gravity coupled to the Standard Model… A theory of quantum gravity is necessary, however, to study physics at times very near to the Big Bang… A UNIFICATION of gravity with the other forces might be required to construct this complete theory.” (Pg. 6)
He suggests, “String theory is an excellent candidate for a unified theory of all forces in nature… In string theory all forces are truly unified in a deep and significant way. In fact, all particles are unified. String theory is a quantum theory, and, because it includes gravitation, it is a quantum theory of gravity… While it may be difficult to measure the effects of quantum gravity directly, a theory of quantum gravity such as string theory may have testable predictions concerning the other interactions… Are we sure that string theory is a good quantum theory of gravity? There is no complete certainty yet, but the evidence is very good. Indeed, the problems of incalculability or lack of predictability that occur when one tries to quantize Einstein’s theory do not seem to appear in string theory.” (Pg. 6-7) He adds, “This book will explain in detail how string theory, at least in its simplest form, is nothing but the quantum mechanics of classical relativistic strings.” (Pg. 8)
He acknowledges, “It should be said at the outset that, as of yet, there has been no experimental verification of string theory. In order to have experimental verification one needs a sharp prediction. It has been difficult to obtain such a prediction. String theory is still at an early stage of development, and it is not easy to make predictions with a theory that is not well understood. Still, some interesting possibilities have emerged…” (Pg. 8) He continues, “Another possibility has to do with supersymmetry. If we start with a ten-dimensional superstring theory and compactify the six extra dimensions, the resulting four-dimensional theory is, in many cases, supersymmetric. No unique predictions have emerged for the specific details of the four-dimensional theory, but supersymmetry may be a rather generic feature. An experimental discovery of supersymmetry in future accelerators would suggest very strongly that string theory is on the right track.” (Pg. 9)
He also admits, “The deepest mysteries of the universe seem to lie hidden in a regime where classical general relativity breaks down. String theory should allow us to peer into this unknown realm… Most likely, answering such questions will require a mastery of string theory that goes beyond our present abilities. String theory is in fact an unfinished theory… in reality we have no complete formulation of the theory… the conceptual foundation of the theory remains largely unknown. String theory is an exciting research area because the central ideas remain to be found. Describing nature and formulating the theory---those are the present-day challenges of string theory. If surmounted, we will have a theory of all interactions, allowing us to understand the fate of spacetime and the mysteries of a quantum mechanical universe. With such high stakes, physicists are likely to investigate string theory until definite answers are found.” (Pg. 10-11)
He notes, “If string theory is correct, we must entertain the possibility that spacetime has more than four dimensions. The number of time dimensions must be kept equal to one---it seems very difficult, if not altogether impossible, to construct a consistent theory with more than one time dimension. The extra dimensions must therefore be spatial. Can we have a Lorentz invariance in worlds with more than three special dimensions? Yes. Lorentz invariance is a concept that admits a very natural generalization to spacetimes with additional dimensions.” (Pg. 28)
He observes, “Most physicists do not expect general relativity to hold at truly small distances nor for extremely large gravitational fields. This is a realm where string theory, the first serious candidate for a quantum theory of gravitation, is necessary. General relativity is the large-distance/weak gravity limit of string theory. String theory MODIFIES general relativity; it must do so to make it consistent with quantum mechanics. The conceptual framework which underlies these modifications is not clear yet. It will no doubt emerge as we understand string theory better in the years to come.” (Pg. 52)
He points out, “It turns out to be very difficult to test gravity at small distances; the force of gravity is extremely weak and spurious electrical forces must be cancelled very precisely. Motivated mainly by the possible existence of large extra dimensions, physicists set out to test the inverse-squared law at distances less than one millimeter. The experiments that have been carried out to date have found no departure from the inverse-squared law down to distances of about one-tenth of a millimeter. This means that extra dimensions, if they exist, must be smaller than one-tenth of a millimeter. Compact dimensions the size of one-hundredth of a millimeter… are still consistent with experiment.” (Pg. 61)
He explains, “Realistic string theories… must also contain the states of fermionic particles… Quarks and leptons are fermionic particles. To obtain them we need SUPERSTING theories. We will not study superstrings in detail in this book. A proper explanation of the necessary background material would take too long. Here we would like to give you a general idea about superstrings. Certain applications that are discussed in this book involve superstrings; this section provides the required background material.” (Pg. 262)
Much later in the book, he notes, “We chose to do the quantization of strings in the light-cone gauge because all of the above features would have distracted us from the task of extracting the physical content of the theory. The light-cone gauge has served us well, and it will continue to do so in the following chapters… The proper treatment of covariant quantization requires tools that go beyond the level of this book. We will not be able to derive the critical dimension, for example. While our treatment will not be complete, we will still gain some important insights into the structure of the theory.” (Pg. 460)
Zwiebach has now updated this textbook: A First Course in String Theory, 2nd Edition. And it must be noted that, by "undergraduates," he doesn't mean Sociology majors at a state college; he is referring to physics majors at universities like MIT, who are planning on making this field their life's work.
To be sure, string theory (much less superstring theory) is still controversial. [See, for example, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law and Hiding in the Mirror: The Quest for Alternate Realities, from Plato to String Theory.] But Zwiebach’s textbook admits outstanding problems, and it remains a very interesting and highly useful book for those wanting to explore string theory in some detail.
However, this is not a 'popular' book. There are such 'popular' books which attempt to give some elements of string theory or other contemporary physics or cosmology but fail miserably. A classroom text won't have that problem. (To see an example how NOT to communicate string theory to anyone, take a look at "The Little Book of String Theory" by Steven Gubser of Princeton, which substitutes analogies about dancing for real teaching, and is of little value to readers of any background.)
No one should make the mistake the Zwiebach book is for the general reader - it is not. Don't be misled that it is an undergraduate course text; true, but an MIT advanced undergraduate text, for elite MIT physics pre-professionals who are at the level of graduate students elsewhere. Also their preparation is extensive and uniform. The book is perfectly understandable for the physics student on a PhD track and already familiar with electromagnetism, relativity and quantum mechanics. But not otherwise. For example, there is a one page review of the variational principle of least action in mechanics; no one who hasn't studied this before is going to learn it in one page. Besides the target audience of professional-track MIT students, the book may be accessible for self study by physicists and engineers working in other fields who want to understand what all the shouting is about and are willing to put in the time and concentration. The second edition corrects numerous errors and misprints of the first edition which could cause much puzzlement otherwise.
It is a lot of work to develop a polished text like this and many universities unfortunately do not really reward research faculty for doing so. MIT is different and Prof. Zwiebach has received well deserved honors for producing the course and the book. As string theory is one of the frontier intellectual explorations of humankind in our generation, it is a worthy subject to learn and to teach.
I started in the second half to find out about intersting topics in the literature and was able to use references to earlier developement in the book to clearify issues I had. I then found a comfortable starting point halfway through the first section to prepare a better foundation.
The reward of being able to determine how each theorem arises from earlier equations (concepts) makes the book hard to lay down (like a good novel.)
I'm sorry I can't comment about the problems because I was too buisy with the text to take the time to try any of them.
I obviously recommend the text.
The author says this is a textbook for undergraduates but I don't think I would have had enough quantum mechanics to understand it until after my first year of graduate school. In addition I'd suggest readers have a background in special relativity, the Lagrangian formalism, E&M, and at least an intro to quantum field theory.