Viewpoint: The most effective and powerful scientific theory is an enigma

What keeps you busy when you are bored of your everyday school curriculum? Maybe video games, books, some fun hobbies; great! One such thing that I find to be very fascinating is Theoretical physics, not the calculations as they are far beyond my scope, but the theories and speculations about everything: from the tiniest ‘quark’ to the most massive ‘universe and beyond’.

I’ve always been curious about the origin and the end of everything around me and beyond. Where did the universe come from? Will it come to an end? Are the fundamental particles, constituting matter, further divisible?

These questions would keep me captivated for hours on end. I decided to dig deep inside this world of mind-boggling possibilities, so I bought a few books by some bestselling authors of theoretical physics which include Michio Kaku, Stephen Hawking, Sean Carroll, and Carlo Rovelli. Those books made me wonder if I’d, one day, be able to find out what physicists now are trying to find: a Theory of Everything.

Well, a Theory of Everything is a theory, several inches long, which would probably describe the origin and fate of everything. Quantum mechanics and Relativity are probably the two giants of theoretical physics most common in debate among physicists.

Quantum physics is the prevalent theory of the microscopic world, which describes the atoms and molecules, the fundamental forces, and the subatomic realm. Whereas, relativity on the other hand begins to answer the questions such as: Is there a beginning and end of time? Where is the farthest point in the universe? What happened at the creation? Etc.

Now, to achieve a theory of everything would mean to merge these two supreme yet opposite theories. Is it a huge task? Yes, it is. Why?

Einstein in his theory of general relativity described gravity, not as a force at all but the bending of space-time caused by the presence of matter-energy. His theory of special relativity states that light always moves at the same speed regardless of perspective or reference frame. If this is the case, then it means that the speed of light in the presence of gravity will be the same as its speed in space. Since space-time is bent by gravity, the distance between two points in the presence of gravity would be a curve.

For light to travel with the same speed, as it will do in space, time itself will slow down, distorting time.

Despite that relativity describes how gravity works so perfectly, it is still incomplete. It predicts regions of space where space-time can get so distorted that nothing can escape including light: a black hole. Within the black hole lies a mass concentrated to an infinitely small point with infinite density, called a singularity. Here, even the laws of general relativity break down. To figure out what happens in such infinitely small regions we need the study of the very small: Quantum mechanics.

But Alas! The equations of quantum mechanics make no sense in terms of singularity or general relativity. At the microscopic level, the force of gravity is so weak that it barely has any effect on any single subatomic particle. Also, physicists find it difficult to incorporate general relativity into the microscopic world. But loopholes are not acceptable in a theory of everything.

As of now, the search for a unified theory of everything is still on.

I write this as a premature aspirant of physics, all these being based on only what I now know. You might think what led me to write all this. Science, as we all know, is subtle and complex. The fact that anyone and everyone can very precisely understand it is unbelievable.

People are often afraid of the complexities. But as we look into this abyss, we find a very beautiful interior decorated with some astounding achievements. We ought to complete what they had left for us to complete. Do you know what describes us as children? Curiosity.

Our curiosity to know things, determination to stick to a thing until achieved and our imagination are the qualities that make all of us scientists. We children are the future. If we are interested, then we can surely achieve it!

Prinistha Borah is 9th grade student at Kristo Jyoti High School in Bokakhat, Assam. Her dream is to attend college at MIT, Oxford University or the University of California Los Angles. "I want to be a theoretical physicist in future and I want to know the secrets of the physical world around me."

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