What is Grand Unification Theory?

In the mid-1970's physicists were excited with the recent success of Steven Weinberg, Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow in creating a unification theory for the electromagnetic and weak forces. By applying what is called 'group theory' , physicists such as Glashow, Georgi and others proposed that you could use the symmetries of 'SU(5)' to unite the weak and electromagnetic forces with the strong nuclear force which is mediated by gluons. This became known as 'Grand Unification Theory' or 'GUT', and quickly evolved into many variants including 'super-symmetric GUTs (SUSY- GUTs)', 'super gravity theory' and 'dimensionally-extended SUSY GUTs', before being replaced by string theory in the early 1980's.

It produced a lot of excitement in the late-70s and early-80's because it seemed as though it could provide an explanation for the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces, and do so in a common mathematical language. It's major prediction was that at the enormous energy of 1000 billion billion volts (10^15 GeV) the strong nuclear force would become similar (or unified) with the electromagnetic and weak forces. Applying these ideas to cosmology also led to the creation of Inflationary Cosmology.

Today, the so-called Standard Model of nuclear physics unifies physics (except for gravity) and uses some of the basic ideas of GUT to do so. Physicists are still trying to confirm several basic ideas in GUT theory such as 'spontaneous symmetry breaking' by looking for the Higgs Boson. GUT also uncovered a new 'Supersymmetry' in nature, which has continued to be searched for. The unpleasant thing about the current Standard Model is that it has several dozen adjustable constants that have to be experimentally fine-tuned to reproduce our physical world including such numbers as the constant of gravity, speed of light, fine structure constant, and the constants that determine how strongly the leptons and quarks interact. Physicists think that this is way too much, and so the search is on for a better theory that has far fewer ad hoc constants. There is also the problem that the Standard Model doesn't include gravity.

The hope that gravity could some how be incorporated into GUTs was never realized because of the advent of String Theory which provided a newer way to look at gravity as a 'quantum field'.


Copyright 1997 Dr. Sten Odenwald

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