Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality

Course No. 1284
Professor S. James Gates Jr., Ph.D.
University of Maryland, College Park
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Course No. 1284
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Course Overview

One of the most exciting scientific adventures of all time is the search for the ultimate nature of physical reality, a hunt that in the past century has yielded such breakthroughs as Einstein's theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, two theories that radically altered our picture of space, time, gravity, and the fundamental building blocks of matter.

The latest advance in this epic quest is string theory—known as superstring or M-theory in its most recent versions. The "M" of M-theory is an arbitrary label, but some physicists believe it stands for mysterious or magical. Marvelous also qualifies, because there is something quite wonderful about this beautiful and startling idea.

Based on the concept that all matter is composed of inconceivably tiny filaments of vibrating energy, string theory has potentially staggering implications for our understanding of the universe.

Wouldn't you love to understand string theory at a deeper level than is available from popular articles or even book-length treatments? Aren't you eager to look over the shoulder of a prominent string theorist at work—one who has a gift for explaining the subject to nonscientists and who has created computer-generated images to help make the concepts clear?

A Challenging Course in a Fascinating Field

The Teaching Company offers just such a guide in Professor S. James Gates Jr., director of the Center for String and Particle Theory at the University of Maryland. Professor Gates is an old hand in this very young field. In 1977 he wrote the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's first-ever doctoral dissertation on supersymmetry, the precursor to string theory.

In the midst of teaching, pursuing research, and writing scores of scientific papers over the past two decades, Dr. Gates has also presented nearly 100 public talks on string theory, honing a set of visual aids designed to convey the difficult mathematical ideas that underlie this subject to a lay audience.

The 24 lectures in Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality incorporate Dr. Gates's field testing of this matchless set of graphics, which are the most technically lavish that The Teaching Company has ever presented. Prepare to be intrigued, enlightened, and amazed.

Because the goal of string theory is to unite relativity and quantum mechanics in a comprehensive "theory of everything," this course nicely complements two other Teaching Company courses: Professor Richard Wolfson's Einstein's Relativity and the Quantum Revolution: Modern Physics for Non-Scientists, 2nd Edition, and Professor Steven Pollack's Particle Physics for Non-Physicists: A Tour of the Microcosmos.

Combined with Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality, this trio of Teaching Company courses traces the development of physics in the 20th century—from well-tested theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics, to the more abstract research of late 20th-century particle physics, to the strange world of string theory, which is still in an intense state of flux.

Spaghetti Strands

The essence of string theory is that the smallest, most fundamental objects in the universe are not little balls knocking around like billiards, as had been thought for about 2,000 years. Instead, these small objects are supermicroscopic filaments—like tiny strands of spaghetti—whose different vibrational modes produce the multitude of particles that are observed in the laboratory.

So when a string vibrates in one way, it might appear to be an electron. If it vibrates in a different manner, it would look like a quark. It could vibrate in a third way and display the properties of a photon. Or perhaps it vibrates in a fourth mode and physicists say, "That's a graviton!" This gives strings an inherent ability to unify phenomena that had always been assumed to be different. If string theory ultimately proves correct, then strings are truly the DNA of reality.

One of the most celebrated features of the string approach is that it predicts more dimensions than the three of our familiar spatial world plus one of time. Currently, the most comprehensive version of string theory—M-theory—calls for a total of 11 dimensions. These extra dimensions could be hidden away, compacted into exotic shapes like the "Calabi-Yau manifold," or they could be forever out of reach in high-dimensional membranelike objects called branes.

But some physicists—Dr. Gates among them—see strings as entirely consistent with the four-dimensional world as we experience it. He explains this intriguing interpretation in Lecture 16.

Explore Ideas through Images

Each lecture draws on the illustrative power of computer-generated imagery (CGI). For years Dr. Gates has been asked to write a nontechnical book on string theory, but he has always declined, convinced that words alone cannot convey to the public the mathematical ideas that provide the foundation of this field. But these video lectures can. "The format of courses followed by The Teaching Company provides an exquisite platform for the utilization of CGI technology to augment conventional static lectures and books," he says.

Here are some of the mathematical ideas that you will explore through images in this course:

  • Dark matter: Two animations of galaxies in the process of forming show that something is wrong with the scene that is based on the observable mass of an average galaxy: There is not enough matter for it to hold its shape. On the other hand, the galaxy with added "dark" matter does just fine. String theory accounts for the existence of this dark matter.
  • What would happen if the sun disappeared? If the sun suddenly vanished, Earth would have 8 minutes before going dark, since it takes that long for the sun's light to reach us. But what about the sun's gravity? Would there be a similar delay, or would Earth go flying out of its orbit immediately? The answer to this question inspired one of the major theoretical goals of string theory.
  • Designer atoms: The configuration of subatomic particles in an atom is specified by a set of equations. These can be visualized, showing that if you alter the equations to change one type of particle into another, the atom collapses, rendering all life impossible.
  • Sizzling black holes: Physicist Stephen Hawking proposed that black holes do more than just bend light around them; they also give off a "sizzle" of static. Even though a black hole is itself invisible, these effects can be detected and visualized with computer graphics. Hawking's brilliant insight eventually led others to develop the first string theory.
  • Einstein's hypotenuse: Many of the ideas developed by Einstein, including E = mc², can be understood by analyzing a geometric figure called Einstein's hypotenuse. Use of this concept in early versions of string theory led to a bizarre particle called the tachyon.

This course is an immensely rich experience, filled with unexpected delights and mysterious encounters. You will often feel like a tourist in an exotic country, where the sights, sounds, aromas, and incidents are at times baffling but always invigorating and educational, leaving you with a desire to understand this complex world better.

If you've ever wanted to know what string theory is all about; or what theoretical physicists discuss over dinner; or how mathematical ideas guide our exploration of inconceivably tiny realms; or if you've ever wanted a glimpse of cutting-edge ideas about the fundamental structure of reality—then, by all means, we invite you to let Professor Gates be your guide into the amazing world of strings.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Macro/Micro/Mathematical Connection
    Professor Gates opens with a survey of the goals of the series and introduces the concept of strings, which are incredibly tiny objects that may be the most fundamental objects in the universe. String theory is not yet experimental physics; it is theoretical physics, based on sophisticated mathematical ideas. x
  • 2
    Who Is Afraid of Music?
    Mathematics will play an important role in this course because string theory is purely mathematical. But instead of studying equations, you will explore the mathematics of strings through computer images and animations. These are comparable to the music generated by notes on a musical score. x
  • 3
    Apropos Einstein's Perfect Brainstorm Year
    This lecture explores Einstein's general theory of relativity, which led to a new understanding of gravity and sparked Einstein's quest for a "theory of everything." Building a mathematical theory of everything is like confronting a complicated toy on Christmas Eve, whose box states, "some assembly required." x
  • 4
    Honey, I Shrunk to the Quantum World—Part I
    In the first of two lectures on the quantum world, you start at the level of the atom and dig deeper, discovering the following: leptons (electronlike objects); nuclear matter (protons, neutrons); quarks (subnuclear matter); and force carriers (photons, gluons, W and Z bosons, and gravitons). x
  • 5
    Honey, I Shrunk to the Quantum World—Part II
    You investigate more properties of the quantum world, including spin, the Pauli exclusion principle, quantization, vacuum polarization, and quantum tunneling. You are also introduced to the Higgs boson, sometimes called the "God particle" for its apparent role in imparting mass to other particles. x
  • 6
    Dr. Hawking's Dilemma
    Any object that possesses a temperature above absolute zero must give off thermal radiation. But how is this possible with a black hole, which is so massive that not even light can escape from it? In 1975, Stephen Hawking forced a crisis in theoretical physics with a stunning theory addressing this problem. x
  • 7
    I'd Like to See a Cosmos Sing in Perfect Harmony
    In trying to explain black holes in a way consistent with Hawking's 1975 theory, scientists had to combine two pillars of physics—quantum theory and the general theory relativity. The resulting mathematics predicted a surprising form of matter: strings. x
  • 8
    Einstein's Hypotenuse and Strings—Part I
    String theory may involve extra dimensions beyond the familiar three of space plus one of time. But how are physicists able to think about extra dimensions? The Pythagorean theorem provides a model, showing that it's possible to calculate the properties of objects in higher dimensions without having to visualize them. x
  • 9
    Einstein's Hypotenuse and Strings—Part II
    Einstein incorporated the fourth dimension of time into the Pythagorean theorem and came up with an idea known as the Einstein hypotenuse. This led to the famous equation E = mc2, which can be interpreted as a statement about areas in a four-dimensional world. You see how Einstein's hypotenuse led to an object that could have destroyed the world of physics: the tachyon. x
  • 10
    Tying Up the Tachyon Monster with Spinning Strings
    This lecture explores the phenomenon of spin, which is ubiquitous in the quantum world. Spin was well known to particle physicists in the 1970s, but it presented problems for the first generation of string theory. A new generation of spinning strings solved the problem and also dealt with the tachyon threat. x
  • 11
    The Invasion of the Anti-Commuting Numbers
    Starting with the frustum (a truncated pyramid) on the back of a dollar bill, you explore some intriguing properties of numbers, including anti-commuting Grassman numbers. Anticommutivity is useful in quantum mechanics and manages to banish the tachyon from certain versions of string theory. x
  • 12
    It's a Bird—A Plane—No, It's Superstring!
    In 1977 three physicists—Gliozzi, Sherk, and Olive—observed that it is supersymmetry (the equality of bosons and fermions) that kills the tachyon monster. Supersymmetry is the child of string theory and the parent of superstrings. But why are there five versions of superstrings. x
  • 13
    Gauge Theory—A Brief Return to the Real World
    While working on supersymmetry around 1982, physicists Schwarz and Green found a solution that required 496 charges, implying a world in which there are 32 possible ways to rotate. The resulting string was called the SO(32) superstring, and was the world's first unified field theory, achieving a dream of Einstein. x
  • 14
    Princeton String Quartet Concerti—Part I
    Circular polarization of light possesses a mathematical property useful in superstring theory. Standing waves, left-moving waves, and right-moving waves are introduced in this lecture. Recognition that all three exist in superstring theory led to a new "heterotic" string constructed by a group of four physicists at Princeton in 1984. x
  • 15
    Princeton String Quartet Concerti—Part II
    The initial work of the "Princeton String Quartet" led to two strings from different dimensions: a left-moving superstring and the old bosonic right-moving string. But this work did not incorporate the requisite 496 charges. This lecture explores a new description of the heterotic string that produces that magic number. x
  • 16
    Extra Dimensions—Ether-like or Quark-like?
    It is often said that string theory requires extra dimensions, but that's not quite true. The mathematics of the heterotic string can be interpreted with extra dimensions or without. What appear to be extra dimensions can be understood as angular variables associated with the change of force-carrying particles. x
  • 17
    The Fundamental Forces Strung Out
    This lecture shows how superstring theory provides mathematical support for Hawking's theory of black-hole radiation, which was discussed earlier in the course. Observational proof of string theory may come not by looking at nature's smallest structures but by looking at its largest: the universe itself. x
  • 18
    Do-See-Do and Swing Your Superpartner—Part I
    Why does the universe observe a dichotomy, in which beams of matter obey the Pauli exclusion principle but beams of energy do not? The universe may be more symmetrical than this model suggests. Here, you look at evidence for supersymmetry that points to the existence of superpartners for ordinary matter. x
  • 19
    Do-See-Do and Swing Your Superpartner—Part II
    Supersymmetry implies that every known matter particle has a superpartner that has yet to be observed in the laboratory. In fact, it is much more likely that superpartners will be discovered indirectly than in the lab. This lecture covers a technique for detecting them. x
  • 20
    A Superpartner for Dr. Einstein's Graviton
    Can physicists find a consistent way to introduce mass to the superpartners so that they become very heavy while ordinary matter remains very light? The Higgs mechanism is one such method and may offer an explanation for the mysterious dark matter that is key to the formation of galaxies. x
  • 21
    Can 4D Forces (without Gravity) Love Strings?
    This lecture follows current attempts to use concepts from string theory to understand the forces and structures of matter inside the proton and neutron. You also visit the strange world of branes, and explore the type IIB string, which is one of five types of superstrings. x
  • 22
    If You Knew SUSY
    If you were to pick up a physics journal from the last 20 years, you would likely come across the word SUSY, which means supersymmetric. In this lecture, you study an unusual aspect of SUSY, superspace, and learn how it accounts for the five types of superstrings. x
  • 23
    Can I Have that Extra Dimension in the Window?
    Strings supposedly describe everything. But if that's true, how can there be five different "everythings"? This lecture investigates a possible solution in 11-dimensional supergravity, which may be part of a larger and even more mysterious construct, M-theory. x
  • 24
    Is String Theory the Theory of Our Universe?
    String theory weaves together an amazing story with contributions by several generations of mathematicians and physicists. Professor Gates closes with a review of the current state of the field, and he looks at some denizens of the world of supersymmetry that he and his colleagues have recently identified. x

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Video DVD
DVD Includes:
  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
  • 192-page printed course guidebook

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 192-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
  • Timeline

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Your professor

S. James Gates Jr.

About Your Professor

S. James Gates Jr., Ph.D.
University of Maryland, College Park
Dr. S. James Gates Jr. is the John S. Toll Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for String and Particle Theory at the University of Maryland at College Park. He earned two B.S. degrees in mathematics and physics and earned his Ph.D. in the studies of elementary particle physics and quantum field theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Gates's first post was a Junior Fellow in the Harvard Society of...
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Reviews

Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality is rated 3.3 out of 5 by 135.
Rated 1 out of 5 by from What were they thinking? I've waited months to write this review, hoping I could force myself to watch the last half of the class before commenting on it, but I just can't. The baby talk I can take, that comes with the territory; but similes that import more confusion that insight -- such as the titular DNA -- are painful to watch. Perhaps this subject simply cannot be presented to a lay audience, but in that case . . . discretion is the better part of valor.
Date published: 2011-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good course This is a well done course on string theory. It is very hard to cover such a topic without the math but the math is so complex that only a few would be able to follow it so this course achieves the goal of presenting it to a much wider audience in an entertaining but still educational way. By the way, the viewer who complained that the word M-Theory is not arbitrary is wrong. The 'M' has historically been words like Matrix, Mystery, Magic, and many other words over the evolution of this theory even thought the currently accepted meaning is usually Membrane. So Dr. Gates was 100% correct in using that term. This is a good reason people benefit from a organized course like this. Many times people pick up their knowledge about a complicated subject like this from news stories, friends, and other little snippets and don't really get all the facts straight but think they understand the subject.
Date published: 2010-12-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course on a Difficult Topic I felt this was an excellent course taught by a very knowledgable professor who has been in the thick of it. The material is obviously very esoteric but he manages to draw helpful analogies with everyday experience. I learned a lot from this course and am now motivated to learn some more of the mathematical details. Thank you, Teaching Company, for offering a course on a complex topic such as this.
Date published: 2010-11-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Yikes! The M is for membranes!! I worry about a lecture description that begins by saying that the term "M-theory" is an arbitrary term!! Makes you wonder whether one can trust anything that is said following that. First of all, the "M" in "M-theory is not arbitrary: It stands for "membrane". M-theory is just the latest iteration of string theory, with membranes (hence the M) substituted for strings. Read the article on "Cosmic Clowning: Stephen Hawking's new theory of everything" [Scientific American]
Date published: 2010-09-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview of the subject Professor James Gates has taken on the daunting task of explaining a very complex mathematical theory in words and illustrations that can be understood by persons not familiar with the math. His delivery of the subject matter was calm, clear, concise and easy to understand. The allegories he used to illustrate the theory were helpful. I learned the essence of what string theory is about including the history of its development and the challenges the theory still presents. My only criticism was that Dr. Gates jumped around a bit too much making it difficult to follow how the theory has progressed through the years. But overall, it was a good introduction of string theory for those who have just a basic knowledge of physics.
Date published: 2010-06-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good try at a tough job An introductory course on superstring theory is complex enough, but trying to do it without using mathematics is almost hopeless. Nevertheless, Dr.gates gave it a good try. The need to deal with higher dimensions is particularly problematical. The repeated use of of the ladder graphic was less than useful in discussing multiple dimensions.
Date published: 2010-05-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality Dr. Gates is excellent at explaining the complexities of Super Symmetric String Theory for a technical BS level practitioner without getting bogged down with complex math, His presentation approach demonstrated the results of the mathematics graphically, with the ability to modify values of variables and graphically see the effect in real time. He is understandable, friendly and thorough without dumbing down the technical content.
Date published: 2010-05-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Disappointing Though I think some of the other reviews are harsh, I was disappointed by this course. One of the very,very few TTC offerings that I skipped and skimmed to get through. I thought that Dr. Gates gave a sincere effort. Maybe it was just more than I really wanted to know. Quite dry in places. While I would not recommend this to most; a very motivated individual, with great interest in this subject may well have a better experience than I did.
Date published: 2010-05-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I Hate to Agree... ...but I must. It was all I could do to wade through this course, despite my intense interest in the subject matter. Among other complaints, I got so sick of the ladder illustration that Dr. Gates came back to over and over again ad nauseum that I began tuning out everything else he had to say. As mentioned by another reviewer, this course is a logical conclusion to an otherwise wonderful sequence of offerings on astronomy, cosmology and particle physics--and a terrible disappointment. I'd really like to see it redone with a different instructor.
Date published: 2010-05-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Disappointing I have over 30 of these courses. I bought this one along with the Dark Matter, Dark Energy and the Chaos courses. The other courses are outstanding. I was so looking forward to this course. I saved it for last to let the anticipation build. I was shocked because it is terrible. The presentation is not internally consistent. The course does not move smoothly nor does the flow of subject material make much logical sense. The transitions between topics are confusing and poorly executed. I watched this course twice because I wanted to make sure that I wasn't missing something. I didn't miss anything, the course is simply that bad. It needs to be done again with a different professor. I really hate to say that but it is true.
Date published: 2010-03-21
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I could not agree more with the reviewers that consider this a flop. James gates , Jr. does a disorganized confusing and completely disappointing presentation. The first 3 lectures have gone by and he appears to be still in the introduction. I have read many amateur level books Kaku, Trefil, Ferris, Singh, etc as well as the great course "Joy of Science" by professor Hazen. Each of them in a different way produced an eloquent, exciting, witty and even artistic rendering of such a fascinating theme. Educational in every sense. All of them have inspired me to further my interest in the topic. I heard a rambling string (if you allow me) of ideas that sometimes appear randomly glued. A Standard Model devoid of beauty or value. How this course passed the the scrutiny of the Teaching Co I will not try to guess. Especially with a lecturer that passes as almost arrogant and many times condescending. This is a sub par course in an otherwise excellent collection of courses. ( I own probably more than fifty). Certainly this in anyway diminishes my loyalty to this wonderful organization with usually outstanding professors as well as the excellent and friendly costumer service. I echo again the previews reviewers and plead with TTC to give another try with a different lecturer. This topic is fascinating and current. It deserves better.
Date published: 2010-03-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Poor presentation, confusing content Why did I find Professor Gates’s course unsatisfactory? I have made some general observations and have also compared it with Professor Pollock’s “Particle Physics for the non-Physicists” (sic). Professor Gates did not achieve what he set out to do. At the end of the course I felt that I did not know much more about string theory than I did at the beginning, in fact, I was confused. The lecturer was not lucid, frequently mangled his words e.g. Archimedius and even forgot the names of people to whom he referred. e. g. in one of the last lectures he quoted the names of two researchers and hesitatingly mentioned the third as their “uh, collaborator”, obviously having forgotten or being ignorant of his name. I found Professor Gates’s showing of complex mathematical equations and symbols irritating and superfluous. Obviously they were not going to be used in the course so why show them? To impress? On occasions, Gates appeared somewhat arrogant; he frequently referred to himself and presumably, his colleagues as– “we mathematicians, we theoretical physicists, etc.” When recalling his post-doctoral days, on at least two occasions, he claimed that he alone in the faculty understood the details of a particular theory. While this may have been true, I feel that it was immodest to highlight the fact. In one of the earlier lectures he referred to a “beautiful” quark. The commonly used term is “bottom” (see Pollock’s course.) Indeed Gates’s own diagram shown at the same time referred to a “bottom” quark. He was not incorrect, but was certainly inconsistent in terminology. Was he being overly PC? In later lectures, Professor Gates introduced many variations of theories. Little time was devoted to explaining them and I found this confusing. When compared overall with Professor Pollock’s course on a related subject, Gates’s offering was vastly inferior. Professor Pollock was clear, enthusiastic and modest. His enthusiasm was infectious and he skillfully avoided showing or using complex mathematical symbols and language. In conclusion, I generally enjoy The Teaching Company’s courses and service, however, this particular product fell well below the usual high standard. I am surprised that it passed the rigorous scrutiny. I was disappointed but shall remain a loyal customer.
Date published: 2010-03-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Rare Flop As a veteran of the Teaching Company, I had great expectations for this course. I was disappointed. While Dr. Gates may be an effective lecturer in the university setting, I doubt he approaches his grad students with the "gee-whiz" approach he uses for these lectures. They are dumbed down to the extreme. If I didn't have a decent science background, though, they'd be difficult to follow. As an example, at one point (lecture 8, which should have been well past introductory material), he spends an astonishing 15 minutes on a cute graphic showing how the Pythagorean Theorem can be extended to extra dimensions. He goes back to this for a further 5 minutes at the beginning of the next lecture. While my mind was wandering, he managed to go through Einstein's construction of the theorem to include time in less than a minute, glossing over any useful derivation and just leaving it on the table for us to figure out. I had to rewind the tape to discover that, no, I hadn't missed anything. This is not by any means a clear and concise discussion of string theory. I implore the Teaching Company to try again, with a different lecturer (Carroll, perhaps?). This course leaves a big hole in the science material that begs to be filled.
Date published: 2010-02-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from DNA as a Category? This course lacks credibility. The Professor is simply ignorant of DNA and genetics. The title is merely Madison Avenue verbiage without even the gloss of plausible haeceity/ demonstrability. This course title is below what I expect from the Teaching Company.
Date published: 2010-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superstring Theory thenDNA of reality The material was extremely current and well organized. This is probably not best as an introductory course, but is excellent for the non-professional, but knowledgeable amateur.
Date published: 2010-01-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not the best I love the Teaching Company course. This one stands out because it is so disappointing. The lecturer is warm and an accessible speaker, however the structure of the talks and the materials are not. I found this dense, convoluted, and confusing. This is disappointing on many levels, not least of which is that this topic is so important and so engaging...just not in this course. The same content has much better treatment in the bestselling books by Brian Greene.
Date published: 2009-08-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A substandard course This is the only Teaching Company course we have ever returned. We have been so appreciative of and grateful for the work and dedication of other professors teaching science to non-mathematicians. There are many superlative courses available in physics, astronomy, quantum mechanics, etc. Not so for this course. Dr. Gates appeared poorly prepared and remained disconnected from his audience. He leaves listeners with less understanding of the topic after taking the course than they had before. At times he was incomprehensible and at other times he appeared to be talking to children. If Dr. Gates has a command of his topic, he is not able to share it. Such a shame, it is a fascinating field.
Date published: 2009-07-31
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very Poorly Done The quality of this course is very poor. I agree with a previous reviewer; its amazing The Teaching Company would allow something like this to be released. I have many Teaching Company Courses and this one is totally unlike the others. It is incoherent, very poorly presented and has little useful content. Its not that the material being difficult implies the course must inevitably be hard to follow (I am a physicist already familiar with this subject), its simply badly organized, rambling and pointless - a complete waste of time.
Date published: 2009-07-31
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing Presentation Disappointing Presentation This lector series had a lot of potential – an interesting topic and really good graphics. Unfortunately the presentation lacked enthusiasm, preparation, and organization. I’d recommend Modern Physics for non-Scientist over this one.
Date published: 2009-07-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I recently discovered the "Teaching Company" and I bought in the last couple of weeks 7 lectures, all on complex subjects. All of them are of impressive quality and content. But this one is a complete disappointement. If this would have been the first course I bougth, I never would have bought anything anymore from TC. I was contemplating returning this series, unfortunattely it is too cumbersome to send it back, so I swallow this one. All the other courses are realy great.
Date published: 2009-07-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A shoe string budget? I have purchased many terrific courses from The Teaching Company, but find this one very annoying. Sometimes I feel like I was spoken to in "baby talk" and at times, the information seemed irrelevant and over my head. Professor Gates relied far too much on his laptop notes and seemed not to be well prepared to teach this course. I would think someone teaching this subject would at least know the difference between a ping pong ball and a golf ball. I would return the course but I am too tired from watching it to get it in the mail. After viewing the course, I still imagine string theory as something to do with securing your shoes. I feel that the subject of the title was never really covered. On the positive side, the course is a few years old and probably outdated anyway. I'm sure Professor Gates is brilliant and wonderful person, but perhaps should have done a bit more preparation on this one.
Date published: 2009-07-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A Poor Presentation I have been taking courses from the Teaching Company for years and have been impressed with the selection of professors and their presentations. This is the first course where I had to stop viewing the lectures because I felt the presentation was so disjointed and so lacking in any logical structure of subject presentation, that I was getting plain irritated and obviously not learning a darn thing. It appeared that Professor gates was not working from notes but wondered around the subject willy-nilly. I can't believe that someone at the Teaching Company did not preview his presentation before signing him up.
Date published: 2009-06-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Dr. Gates does a great job in presenting a very fascinating, cutting-edge topic. One of my favorite courses. Very well done indeed!
Date published: 2009-06-07
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Very Tempted to Return After 40-odd courses from The Teaching Company, I have never been tempted to make use of their unconditional satisfaction guarantee. I have one mathematics course that I should not have ordered due to lack of background on my part. This course was difficult from the outset, in part because Dr. Gates is not the most engaging lecturer. I actually fell asleep at a couple of points. I think that if I were to recommend it, I'd have to recommend it only as a follow-up to Pollock's "Particle Physics", Fillipenko's "Introduction to Astronomy", and Schumaker's "Quantum Physics" and a pot of very strong coffee at a minimum. But I could not in good conscience recommend it as a stand-alone course to someone with no background in contemporary physics.
Date published: 2009-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Class above I've read Greene and Kaku some years ago as an armchair science buff. This video is far superior to those books by giving clear presentations in String Theory, M-theory, different mathematics (Brane). It describes the different representations (types) of string theory, gives the history of its development and credits many scientists for their contributions. I agree with the other review that you need to have a notebook ready (and a remote with a pause button) to write down facts because at times it is a bit too much. Yes, it is a bit expensive. But this is what you have to pay for new science on good media.
Date published: 2009-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just Right I thought that this course was an excellent comprehensive presentation of the subject of Superstring theory. Though not mathematical, which it was not intended to be, this was a very comprehensive treatment of the subject, and conveyed an understanding of the meterial which helped me a great deal in fathoming the subject. I would highly recommend it to all who have an interest in string theory and its place in the Universe.
Date published: 2009-05-15
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Sent Back the Course - Got Something Else I modestly can say that I am significantly better versed in superstring theory than the average person. I've done a massive amount of background reading on the subject and I even took a course on high energy physics at the Fermi National Accelerator (Fermilab) to learn more about the subject. What originally attracted me to the course was the opportunity to see graphical representations of some of the stuff I had read about (Calabi-Yau manifolds, KK particles...). Boy, was I ever disappointed. The presentations were disjointed, Dr. Gates said some things that I felt were blatantly misleading or, at least, incomplete, and the graphics (at least in the couple lectures that I watched) didn't do anything to clarify what he was trying to say. I was shocked. Everything else that I've purchased from the Teaching Company (over 16 courses) has been of such high caliber that I couldn't believe that such a poor product was being foisted on me. Maybe if I had started with no understanding of superstring theory and had plowed through all the lectures, I might have thought differently. But, as I see it, I would have then ended up with an incomplete or inaccurate idea of superstring theory and not even realized it.
Date published: 2009-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rare peek inside String Theory! String Theory is a mathematical model that describes the smallest elementary particles as tiny strings instead of points. It is still being developed, will take many more years/decades to complete, and may never be tested sufficiently to classify it as physics. What I had heard about String Theory was (1) If you don't understand the math, you can't explain it in words and (2) very few people understand the math! This course is a rare peek inside String Theory from someone who actually works in the field and understands it well enough to explain it to the non-scientist. Along the way, Dr Gates shares his insight into many related concepts of modern physics. I would highly recommend this course for anyone curious about the subject.
Date published: 2009-05-03
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not for the Faint-Hearted At the outset, let me say that string theory is really tough stuff, and not for the faint-hearted. To be honest, I had no idea how to accurately rate this course. I've had it about a year. I had one false-start, and then recently I decided to go back and take it front to back (no lecture do-overs). I think it was around lecture 18 that I pretty much stopped understanding what Professor Gates was trying to get across. Still, this was better than my original try, which got me through about half the lectures. What you will find is that you are going to be absolutely inundated with brand new achronyms, abbreviations, terms and concepts, and once introduced, they're going to be thrown around freely with little review. I would strongly advise that you pause the DVD when this happens and write down whatever's new and what it means. I didn't do this, and if I go through this course again, I sure will. You can cut down on all this new terminology by going through related courses first, specifically "Einstein Relativity and the Quantum Revolution" (Wolfson), "Particle Physics" (Pollock), "Cosmology" (Whittle), "Dark Matter, Dark Energy" (Carroll) and "Quantum Mechanics" (Schumacher). I know TTC doesn't have (or particularly want), prerequisite courses for any course, but I think they may have stretched "no prerequisites" to the breaking point in this case. Regarding course quality, I'll flat say the diagrams and animations simply aren't up to the task. There aren't enough of them, some are confusing, and two are outright wrong. There is a diagram that shows right-moving closed strings rotating clockwise and left-moving strings counter-clockwise, but for the rest of the course they're shown exactly the opposite. In another, it's supposed to show "lobes disappearing" (whatever a lobe is), but absolutely nothing is disappearing. In a course this difficult - and considering the typical high quality of TTC courses - these things just should not be happening. Another curiosity - Prof. Gates illustrates "Einstein's Hypotenuse" (his caps), provides equations for it and makes multiple references to it, but if you want more information on it and google this term, it's just not there. I have seen similar equations elsewhere, but with the signs on the right side reversed. I'm not saying Prof. Gates is wrong, but it's far from intuitive how he's right. Regarding math, a basic knowledge of algebra is very helpful. You don't need to be able to solve problems in algebra, but if you can look at an algebraic statement, and follow along with Prof. Gates as he interprets it, this will add to your understanding. I gave it three stars because I did get a lot out of it, and if I go through it again I'll probably get more. You can consider this course if you really, really want to learn all you can about string theory and don't mind feeling lost an awful lot. You just may find this course gives you a lot more string theory than you bargained for.
Date published: 2009-04-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I found many aspects of the course that met my expectations. I do not envy professor Gates Jr. in having to present a series of difficult mathematical concepts to an audience lacking in math skills. His use of graphics helped, although the quality of graphics could have been better. In order to simplify the explanations he asked us to use mental imagery, which worked most of the time except for one instance where "walking around an electron" was more confusing than helpful. In general I gained a good basic understanding of the concept of string theory and an appetite for further study.
Date published: 2009-03-19
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