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String theory’s ‘smoking gun’ T o study some of the biggest questions in nature, such as how the universe began, physicist Luis Anchordoqui is focused on the incredibly small. His search for the most basic units of matter involves a still-unproven theory that replaces the traditional view of subatomic particles as “points” with the notion that they are minuscule, vibrating “strings.” It requires huge amounts of energy to probe this way. More, in fact, than the LHC currently can generate—unless the size of some strings were not quite as small as once thought. To detect these small-scale vibrations, Anchordoqui uses the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland creates head-on collisions of two beams of protons moving at almost the speed of light. These high-energy crashes bring pieces of protons very close together. Only at such short distances can their structure be determined. He says that possibility is worth investigating. If string theory is correct, it would unify all the known forces in nature and the building blocks of matter into a cohesive model—a feat that eluded even Albert Einstein. Anchordoqui recently won an Early CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support this work. He is the ninth member of UWM’s Physics Department to receive the NSF’s most prestigious grant for younger researchers. All previous winners are active faculty members. RESEARCH REPORT 2012 If strings exist, the collision would excite them, allowing Anchordoqui to test whether the variations in their oscillations indicate that the strings’ behaviors correspond to the behaviors of traditional particles. “Nature may be helping us out,” Anchordoqui says, “because there is evidence that some strings could be as large as a millimeter.” • 16 Luis Anchordoqui, associate professor of physics

UWM Research Report 2012

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