What are the Strings in String Theory?

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Why strings? What are they made of? How did physicists even come up with this bizarre idea? And what’s all this nonsense of extra dimensions?

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Hosted by Matt O’Dowd
Written by Matt O’Dowd
Graphics by Luke Maroldi
Assistant Editing and Sound Design by Mike Petrow
Made by Kornhaber Brown (

In physics we like to reduce down our description of the mechanics of reality to the simplest possible form. We expect the most fundamental machinery to have the fewest possible moving parts – or free parameters. This is why the standard model of particle physics is considered incomplete. Its equations predict many things with stunning accuracy, but they first require us to tune many mathematical knobs and dials. We need to use physical measurement to fix 19 free parameters like the masses of particles. And then there’s gravity, which doesn’t fit into the standard model at all. So surely there exists a deeper set of cogs and wheels – a theory that brings all observable phenomena into the same mechanical framework. That would be a theory of everything, and this is the great hope of string theory.

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