It’s been a while since I posted anything science-y, and I’ve got some time between flipping pancakes, so here’s an odd thing from the last few weeks of science news. Last week, there was an article in Nature about the wonders of string theory applied to condensed matter physics. This uses the “AdS/CFT” relationship, by which theorists can take a theory describing a bunch of strongly interacting particles in three dimensions (such as the electrons inside a solid), and describe it mathematically as a theory involving a black hole in four dimensions. This might seem like a strange thing to do, but sometimes the black-hole problem turns out to be more tractable, allowing the calculation of useful things that would be difficult in the original model.
By itself that’s not odd– AdS/CFT has been a big deal in string theory circles for years, and “string theory a success!” has been a reliable way to sell magazines for longer than that. What’s odd is that nearly simultaneously (according to some observer moving at a speed close to that of light, anyway), Bee posted an article at Backreaction showing AdS/CFT failing miserably in its original domain. The original problem it was supposed to solve involved properties of the quark-gluon plasma produced in heavy ion colliders like the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider on Long Island, or some of the experiments at the LHC. In the plot Bee shows, though, the theoretical prediction from AdS/CFT doesn’t come anywhere near the experimental points.
So, it’s sort of odd to see these two things crossing in my newsfeed. AdS/CFT is a miracle for a non-particle-physics branch of science! But it’s failing badly in the particle context! Umm, OK? I guess it’s quantum…
I’ve seen a lot more of the Success! side of this, because it was in Nature, and has been re-shared about a thousand times on Google+, Twitter, and Facebook. (As an aside, I would really like a way to tell my social networking services “I’ve seen this, please don’t show me the next five hundred reshares of the same article/ video/ cat picture.” This would cut my Google+ time by an order of magnitude or more.) I think the contrast is interesting, though, so here’s my tiny bit of signal boost for that side of the story.