The Search for a Theory of Everything – Scientists put Einstein to the test


The search for a theory of everything, which dates back to before Archimedes and advanced significantly in the past century through Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity and quantum mechanics, has been greatly challenged by their conflicting interpretations of gravity. Kent Yagi's innovative research at the University of Virginia, using artificial intelligence and supported by a prestigious career grant from the National Science Foundation, aims to fill this gap, providing new insights into gravity and the fundamental forces of the universe, while strengthening STEM education through society. And educational awareness. (Artist's concept). Credit:

Long before Archimedes suggested that all phenomena observable to us might be understood by fundamental principles, humans imagined the possibility of a theory of everything. Over the past century, physicists have come closer to unraveling this mystery. Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity provides a solid foundation for understanding the universe on a large scale, while quantum mechanics allows us to understand its workings at the subatomic level. The problem is that the two systems don't agree on how gravity works.

Today, artificial intelligence offers new hope for scientists tackling the enormous computational challenges involved in unraveling the secrets of something as complex as the universe and everything in it, says Kent Yagi, an associate professor at the University of Virginia's School of Arts and Graduate Studies. Science is leading a research partnership between theoretical physicists and computational physicists at the University of Virginia, which could provide new insight into the possibility of a theory of everything, or at least, a better understanding of gravity, one of the fundamental forces of the universe. This work earned him a career grant from the National Science Foundation, one of the most prestigious awards available to the nation's most promising young researchers and educators.

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Breakthroughs in observing the universe

One aspect of Einstein's theory of general relativity is that objects moving through space generate waves, like a boat moving through water, but even when those waves are created by planets, stars, galaxies, or even black holes that can create the strongest gravitational fields possible, they are still… Incredibly small. Thus, it was nearly a hundred years after Einstein first published his ideas Gravitational waves Technological means have been developed to monitor them. In 2015, a program known as Legoor Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, one of the largest projects ever funded by the National Science Foundation, detected gravitational waves for the first time, leading to a Nobel Prize in Physics for the project leaders.

Kent Yagi

Physicist Kent Yagi, an associate professor at the University of Virginia's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, has won a career grant from the National Science Foundation, one of the most prestigious awards available to the nation's most promising young researchers and educators. University of Virginia College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

“This discovery was one of the most important moments in physics in the last 100 years,” Yagi said.

As the technology needed to observe subatomic phenomena has advanced, so has the computing power needed to process the vast amounts of data that astronomers collect about the universe. In addition to new developments in Machine learning Artificial intelligence in recent years allows scientists to create and test complex mathematical models that describe the phenomena they observe at a pace that was once unimaginable.

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Yaghi studies massive gravitational waves generated by pairs of black holes and binary neutron stars — some of the densest objects in the universe and that are up to 1,013 times stronger than a typical refrigerator magnet, according to Yaghi — and uses these phenomena to test Einstein's theories about gravity and probe fundamental laws. to nuclear physics in search of information that would help resolve the disconnect between Einstein's theory and quantum mechanics.

Educational funding and outreach

The CAREER grant, which will bring $400,000 in funding to the college over the next five years, will provide opportunities for current and future graduate students interested in developing and applying machine learning algorithms that will help explain and predict gravitational wave observations and give us a deeper understanding. Understanding the behavior of gravity.

Once the computational algorithms are fine-tuned — a process that should take less than a few weeks — Yaghi said his team will be able to process the data collected by LIGO to test Einstein's theory 100 times faster.

“The amount of space we can search through for that data will increase tenfold,” Yagi said.

One of the requirements of the CAREER Award is that recipients also build educational and community outreach projects into their work, and some of the funding will create job opportunities for undergraduate students who will work with Yagi to develop educational programs for high school students interested in physics, which Yagi hopes will inspire the next generation of CAREER-winning scientists. Nobel prize.

The challenge of proving theories

How much closer will this get us to the theory of everything?

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“There are still a lot of problems to be solved,” Yaghi said. “I hope to see that in my lifetime, but I don't want to be too optimistic.”

“Proving the theory is almost impossible,” Yaghi explained. “There will always be measurement error in any experiment, but we will keep trying to see if we find some evidence that disproves general relativity. At the same time, we keep discovering how beautiful and true it looks.”

Yaghi's work and the attention he receives has drawn praise from colleagues and leaders at the University of Virginia.

“There has been a very big push recently toward better understanding gravitational waves, not just as a theoretical prediction or concept, but also to be able to detect them directly,” said Phil Arras, chair of the astronomy department at the University of Virginia. “This effort has opened a whole new window on the universe and given us a new way to verify our theories about how stars evolve. Kent's research has been very important to our understanding of this.”

Despina Lucca, chair of the Department of Physics at the University of Virginia, described Yaghi as a highly respected astrophysicist with an extensive research portfolio.

“Kent is an engaging teacher and sought-after mentor, whose work has had enormous influence on many disciplines of physics,” Luca added. “He is paving the way for using machine learning to test general relativity while exploring the astrophysical properties of neutron stars, and his work with University of Virginia students in building online games that integrate research and education will inspire young people around the world.”

“Professor Yagi’s work is outstanding,” said Christa Acampora, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “We are proud to have him on our faculty, not only because of the recognition he has received as he advances the sciences.” The limits of our understanding of the universe but also of its commitment to innovation in STEM education.

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