STRINGS 2018: Annual Conference on String Theory, Okinawa, Japan
The Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) proudly hosted STRINGS 2018, an annual conference on string theory, between 25-29 June 2018. Held for the second time in Japan, and the first time in Okinawa, the conference provided a global platform for students and early career researchers to meet and interact with senior scientists and pioneers in the field of fundamental physics. With over 400 participants from across the globe, it was one of the largest conferences on strings theory held so far.
String theory is one of the most promising theories in fundamental physics that attempts to unite the four forces of nature; electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. According to it, all particles are tiny vibrating strings that propagate in space and interact with one another. The theory attempts to address a broad set of questions related to black hole physics, early universe cosmology, nuclear physics, and condensed matter physics.
The event was set rolling by OIST President Peter Gruss, who welcomed the participants. “They are remarkable representations of the next generation of string theorists. I am proud to be hosting so many excellent scientists here in this room today,” he said.
2018 is a special year for Strings, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the development of the Veneziano model and the birth of string theory. Eminent scientists like Prof. Gabriele Veneziano, a pioneer, whose discoveries shaped the field of string theory and Nobel laureate Prof. David Gross, were in attendance. Prof. Micheal Green, Prof. John Schwarz and Prof. Tamiaki Yoneya, who have made significant contributions to the field were also present. Prof. Hirosi Ooguri of the California Institute of Technology, and the conference organizer, believes conferences such as these are a “free market of ideas” and provides young and budding scientists an opportunity to meet and interact with their renowned colleagues.
Unlike the previous conferences, speakers for this year were chosen by a special committee set up for the purpose. Young and established scientists, active in the field of string theory from several institutions across the globe were handpicked and invited to present their work. Prof. Juan Maldacena of the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, was one of them and he spoke about the results of his new research on wormholes. A wormhole is a concept based on Einstein equation. It can be picturized as a tunnel with its two ends at different points in space. Wormhole solutions are difficult to construct, and even a theorem prohibiting those solutions exist. The new results presented by Prof. Juan Maldacena at Strings 2018 surprised the participants and launched many fruitful discussions at the venue. “The conference has been great and there have been so many wonderful and interesting talks,” he enthusiastically said.
An event all participants looked forward to witnessing was the cultural program showcasing Okinawa’s Ryukyu heritage, with dance and music performed by talented local artists. After a brief introduction to the Okinawa’s history on the Ryukyu Kingdom by Mr. Fumihiko Sato of Okinawa University, traditional dances such as the Wakashu Kuti Bushi, Shishi Mai and Tanchame, the folk dance from the district of Tancha in Onna Village where OIST is located, enthralled the audience.
A special lecture series was also organized in memory of the three late theoretical physicists, Prof. Peter Freund (1936-2018), Prof. Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), and Prof. Joseph Polchinski (1954-2018). Prof. Freund, a pioneering scientist, proposed the two-component duality function that propelled the development of string theory. Prof. Jeffrey Harvey of University of Chicago shared with the audience fond memories of the time they knew each other.
Prof. Stephen Hawking’s death earlier this year, took the entire world by surprise. “He outlived everyone’s expectations,” said Prof. Micheal Green reminiscing the time he spent with Prof. Hawking at Cambridge. Another colleague, Prof. Andrew Strominger of Harvard University, described him as a “truly amazing” person, determined not to let his disability restrict him from doing his work.
In an emotional speech, Prof. David Gross spoke about the personal bond he shared with Prof. Joseph Polchinski, describing him as a modest man and fantastic colleague. Prof. Polchinski is best known for his discovery of D-branes and his text-book on string theory published in 1998, that students and teachers around the world use even today.
The week-long conference ended on 30 June with a public event that featured the screening of the movie The Man of 9 Dimensions, a talk by Prof. Koji Hashimoto, Osaka University and a brief dialogue with Prof. Hirosi Ooguri. “I am grateful to OIST for its tremendous and generous support in hosting this conference. I hope the participants who have come from all over the world, get to see and experience how wonderful an institution OIST is,” said Prof. Ooguri.