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

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  • 192-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
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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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Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality is rated 3.3 out of 5 by 135.
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Not worth the time This was a poorly done course. The instructor was disorganized and lacked passion about his subject. You'd derive more from an article in Science News. I have little to say except this is not worth the time. It you want a fabulous lecturer and educator, get Dr. Sean Carroll's courses. He is terrific!
Date published: 2014-02-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from An Experiment Gone Wrong I hesitated to weigh in on Professor Gates' course, partly because many of the reviews already sound a cautionary note on its value. I don't know whether it is a topic that can succeed on this level (i.e., for the general public) or simply whether Professor Gates (who admits to being more a researcher than a teacher) is unable to make it work. He acknowledges that string theory is pure mathematics and, therefore, not yet science. Then, he goes on to try to explain it as if it were science. It does not help that his presentation is consistently disjointed (despite the cute lecture titles, which promise more than they deliver), so much so that, by the end of a lecture, I wonder where he began. In addition, his graphics are either too elementary or they are repeated endlessly (such as the house and the ladder). Moreover, he tends to introduce exotic terms and ideas with little preparation for them, and we never hear from them again. I'm sure he's not making it up as he goes along, but I never became engaged. I only wonder if great communicators such as Wolfson or Fillipenko (given the expertise in the area) could have made a go of this. I'm afraid this topic is simply a bad fit for an educated lay audience. If you feel pulled by strings, try a Brian Greene book.
Date published: 2014-02-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Show Me An Equation! Although I did get a superficial understanding of the subject, I found this course frustrating. Part of the problem was my own situation. I've never taken a physics class before, but my bachelors is in economics. I did not feel like I understood things clearly that I would have with some math. I would recommend this course only to someone without a background in mathematics.
Date published: 2013-12-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from String Theory without math is without substance. To me, this course is an experiment that didn’t work. My guess is that the Teaching Company had multiple requests to present a course on string theory, one of the hottest and most publicized topics in science today. So they picked a highly qualified and famous theoretical physicist to present a course to a lay, but intelligent, audience. The problem is that string theory is a totally theoretical and hence mathematical construct. Strings have never been and may never be observed. The analogies that must be applied that are often used to make other difficult concepts in physics understandable just don’t exist. The beauty of string theory is in the math, and except for Einstein’s hypotenuse, which is the best description of special relativity that I have ever heard, the analogies just don’t hold up. Spinning string resonances and how they relate to particle mass and other properties just don’t have analogies. How do you justify and make sensible the need for an 11 dimensional space? Because of this, Professor Gates frequently has to resort to phrases like “it turns out that”, which he uses dozens of times during this course. There is just no way to describe many of the phenomena he is talking about without math, and there is the rub. You cannot have a course like this without employing mathematics, which unfortunately is what the Teaching Company and Dr. Gates largely try to do. Because of this, they have created a course which is unsatisfactory to those who know some math and those that don’t. For those who do, the descriptions are limited and unclear, and the realization that they could comprehend some of the substance of the argument if the math were shown is very frustrating. Further, when Dr. Gates does show some math, it is “right out the blue”. He does not define his terms, and there is no preparation or context, so the presented math makes no sense. For those who don’t know math, the entire series is just a collection of unsupported conjectures without any relation to the real world. It is nothing more than philosophy with no connection to real life. So, I would suggest that if the Teaching Company really wants to have a lecture series on String Theory, they should have Dr. Gates present the work as he would to a class of graduate students with mathematical presentations with solved problems. The number of subscribers will be smaller, but at least, there will be a larger set of satisfied customers.
Date published: 2013-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Educational Achievement Professor Gates has accomplished the near impossible: explaining the vanguard of physical theory using only animated video diagrams, clear analogies, and precise verbal explanations, instead of the usual inaccessible advanced mathematics. These techniques are effectively employed by Dr. Gates to communicate the essence of the otherwise arcane string and superstring theories to an audience of diverse backgrounds and varied levels of interest - a very difficult undertaking to even attempt, much less accomplish in such an authoritative manner with the ease and confidence of a leading authority in the field. I have attempted to learn much of the same material via the usual mathematical avenues on my own, with varied levels of success. I could have saved myself years of effort and frustration in navigating these subjects had I first taken this course as a guide. Superstring theory, it's how's and why's, and the nature of these tools, as used by Physics to explain how our universe works, is surveyed up to M-Theory, Superspace, and Super Gravity. By the end of the course you will not be a Superstring theorist, but you will understand the fundamental concepts involved and have a path to future study, if interested. I had checked the course out via library loan, but I enjoyed it so much that I went ahead and purchased a copy of my own. For anyone having suffered through the typical Physics class lectures, Professor Gates's refreshing manner of presentation is a welcome relief. I thoroughly enjoyed his well-organized and engagingly presented material, as will any interested person beginning the study of these advanced topics.
Date published: 2013-10-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Course works as designed All the critics who award only one star to this course should consider the following: 1) As a commercial entity, "The Great Courses" requires its courses to be at the general public level. 2) Consequently, Professor Gates was severely constrained from using any math and was limited only to the simplest terminology (e.g., notice that "additional directions" replaces "extra dimensions" everywhere). I bet you these constraints would be suffocating to anyone. 3) String theory is _extremely_ hard to explain without math and proper terminology. As a result, this series of lectures is a set of pointers to search further for those interested, _not_ an in-depth explanation of string theory. The latter requires math, a lot of new concepts, and new terminology. You either get shallow, but illustrative course for general public, or an in-depth treatment for selected few - you can't have both! When the "general public" constraints are removed, Gates' lectures are lucid, fluid, and easy to understand (see for example I am not a physicist, but a theoretical physics enthusiast. There was not enough math to my liking, but at least computer graphics was superb. Each lecture prompted me to conduct Internet searches on a number of mentioned concepts, which led to further understanding. Thus, the course served its purpose.
Date published: 2013-08-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from A shocking outlier I’ve enjoyed close to a dozen of Great Courses over a number of years (ranging in subjects from Great Ideas of Philosophy to Everyday Guide to Wines of California :) However, this is the first time I write a review. The reason is simple - this course is a shocking outlier, and unfortunately, not in a good way. It falls way below the quality standards to which I have become accustomed when it comes to the Teaching Company. I happen to have background in physics, but from many years ago. So, initially I was glad when Dr. Gates was taking his time and was talking to me like I'm a five-year old on subjects adjacent to the String theory. My problems begun when most of these "smooth talks" (which, by the way, take most of the course's time) made me want to pull out my hair because of sheer frustration about how poorly the material was "explained". And when the lecturer, occasionally, approached the titled subject of the String theory... omg, what a disappointment! Not to be overly sarcastic, but if your goal is to pick up a few fancy words, just enough to make an impression at a party that you are familiar with the String theory, then this course would suffice. To sum up my impression: confusion, lack of clarity, and at times downright sloppiness :( -Greg P.S. the String Theory is obviously a complex subject. But so is, for example, the closely related field of Quantum Mechanics. And yet there are excellent courses that, instead of dancing around the complexities, actually succeed at _explaining_ the underlying concepts in a way understandable by a non-scientist (see my recommendation below.)
Date published: 2013-03-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Superstring Theory: The DNA of Reality A wealth of information, but a sloppy presentation. It's as if it were a rush job and only partially editted. Too many instances of poorly-defined terminology, disjointed explanations, unsubstantiated conclusions, and irrelevant examples that, along with a disorganized structure, made the many complex concepts much more confusing than they needed to be.
Date published: 2012-11-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Information Vacuum This is my second dud after many outstanding learning experiences from these courses. The other dud was "Relativity" and for the same reason, the presenter didn't know how to package what he knew for this audience and instead filled and backfilled with inanity for the entire course. The abstract can be difficult to present, however the presenter of "Particle Physics" managed to make his material enlightening and enjoyable.
Date published: 2012-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb and Insightful Incredible subject material is presented in a clear and succinct fashion. This fascinating course is designed for the non scientist although the student will have to pay attention and read the manual to reinforce the subject matter. This courseaka a guidebook through some of the wonders of the universe.
Date published: 2012-07-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from difficult subject This course deals with, to say the least, an abstruse branch of science and mathematics. Most of us have not had sufficient mathematics to approach the subject rigorously, so have taken this presentation for general understanding. Professor Gates has an appreciation of his audience, and strives to use visualizations and descriptions to help us on our way. I think Prof Gates sometimes gets a little too simple, then does a little hand-waving. Anyone who takes this course may, as I do, feel a need to repeat lectures to get a better understanding. It is not for the lazy!
Date published: 2012-06-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A great disappointment Professor Gates was a great disappointment to me. I considered dropping the course, but slogged through all twenty-four lectures hoping they would eventually improve. The lackluster presentation seemed ill-prepared at times, and I thought the use of graphic representations was generally ineffective and boring. This complex subject deserves a more skilled lecturer.
Date published: 2012-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Difficult Subject Made Accessible Professor Gates does and outstanding job of explaining what the mathematics of Physics and Theory describe. His CGI animations are to Mathematics what the piano is to a musical score.
Date published: 2012-06-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from painful to watch If you watched the last lecture first, you saw the best of the course. Like other reviewers, I had previously watched particle physics, dark matter/dark energy, black holes and unfortunately relativity (don't buy this one either) and was looking forward to this course being a theoretically yummy dessert. Instead it is profoundly disappointing. Some lectures have no useful content and are a rambling moulage of mind numbingly simplistic repetition. Others have no apparent sense of order or logical construction. I persevered through the whole course hoping it would some how tie a story together. It does not. Read any book by Brian Green or Lisa Randal instead. It will take less time and you'll have a way better feel for the complexity and beauty of this mathematical construct.
Date published: 2012-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super Course on Super Strings I really enjoyed Prof. Gates course on String Theory. In my opinion this is the most difficult course that The Teaching Company offers. The concept of String Theory is entirely mathematical, yet Professor Gates combines a large amount of graphics and animations and clear explanations of the topics to form a solid foundation for the student to learn String Theory. In order to understand String Theory, many mathematical concepts and physics concepts need to be grasped. Dr Gates spends a significant amount of time on these preliminary topics to ensure that the student has an appropriate foundation to move into the formal realm of String Theory. His examples are excellent. For example, his explanation of E = mc^2 is one of the best I have seen, and I have been studying the subject as a hobby for a while now. I really like Dr Gate's presentation style. He assumes no previous knowledge from the student, and develops topics clearly and concisely to ensure a logical flow of instruction. He also has a very friendly demeanor and a very upbeat attitude. I am thoroughly impressed on how he presents such difficult material in a simplified manner. I really appreciate the time Dr Gates has put into the graphics and animations for this course. They all really help with the learning of the material. Overall I am very happy with this course and have had several friends order it on my recommendation. I highly recommend this course to anyone who wants a logical and simple explanation to String Theory without all of the complex mathematics that usually would come along in such a course.
Date published: 2012-05-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from First disappointment The "Superstring Theory" was my 22nd "Great Courses" purchase and my first disappointment. I expected an exciting presentation like my other previous Great Courses, conveying some real information. Instead, the presentation was boring, the presenter seems to be unmotivated and ill-prepared. The content of presentation was shallow, with few specific information and many sloppy use of technical words and terminologies. I am eagerly looking for another Great Courses presentation on the same subject.
Date published: 2012-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly a great series of lectures. Long answer - Professor Gates is highly knowledgeable on the subject matter, very personable in his presentation and is clearly very passionate about superstring theory and research. I highly recommend this series of lectures if you are interested in learning about superstring theory. His explanations of the theories and formulas are complimented by many visuals. You will understand the importance of these visuals as you progress through the series of the lectures. A fantastic set of lectures! You will finish this course wanting to know more, in a good way, about superstring thoery. Short Answer - Get it, watch it, it’s very good!
Date published: 2012-04-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good attempt to explain Superstring Theory... I am not surprised by the wide range of reviews for this course. The reviews taken as a whole are correct, though. This topic (Superstring Theory) is not a mature or stable field of science yet. To try to do the subject justice in just 12 hours and to have the explanations be accessible to most viewers is most likely impossible. Superstring theory can be explained (poorly) in one sentence that goes something like this: "Superstring theory says that all fundamental particles and forces can be explained as the vibrations of tiny strings." This takes just a few seconds, yet will satisfy much of the public. But if someone like Dr. Gates is asked to explain Superstring Theory in 24 half-hour lectures, and have the course be understandable by most viewers, whoever the instructor is will have a great deal of difficulty. Dr. Gates has probably done as well with this course as could be expected for such a complicated and evolving subject. In perhaps 5 more years, it might be a good idea to redo this course, just because the explanation for what Superstring Theory is will have changed a great deal. To understand Superstring Theory better, the viewer will have to be exposed many advanced topics in science, including: the standard model of fundamental particles, supersymmetry, all the four fundamental forces, general relativity, quantum mechanics, a quantum theory of gravity, also very advanced math, and the requirement of dealing with 10 dimensions or more. The idea that this subject could be easily explained to most viewers in 12 hours of lectures is not reasonable. Dr. Gates does fairly well with this course, considering the difficulty of the task.
Date published: 2012-03-25
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Subject Deserves a Re-Do. I've purchased many courses from Great Courses over the years including other Physics and Astronomy courses and would have no problem recommending any of these to others. Except this one. It is simply bad. I cannot recomment it. And it is not becuase the subject is too difficult. For comparison, there is a free lecture series available on the web given by Leonard Susskind at Stanford that gives a math-based, rigorous explanation of Einstein's GR. All you need is basic physics, some calculus, a bit of linear algebra, and determination. This string theory course is bad for all the reasons given by many other reviewers on this site. However, since learning about Kaluza and Klein's work over 30 years ago, I've been keenly interested in all KK-based theories including string theory. If Great Courses did, in fact, have a great course on the subject, I'd buy it. As I read the other reviews of this course here on the website I'm struck by how many customers have suggested a re-do on the topic. I want to add my voice to the crowd.
Date published: 2012-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Simply Outstanding Prof. Gates did a masterfull job of making this difficult material both meaty and accessible. Not only was it a great review of string theory, but his explanation of related areas of physics (ie Standard Model, Relativity, etc,) really helped to solidify my understanding of these subjects. The good professor also manages to pull this off in a most engaging and entertaining manner. I will keep my review all great reviews should be...the rest will speak for itself. Two thumbs up! If you have any interest in the aesthetic that is physics...get this course...enough said.
Date published: 2012-02-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superstring Theory I found this course to be an excellent introduction into String Theory. I had done 1st year University calculus 30 years ago and cannot recall any salient elements of the math. However, this course is geared to people such as I, who want to gain a glimpse into the mind numbing challenges that theoretical physicists contemplate. It has reminded me that a discipline such as this has developed theories that a non physicist won't understand, but can appreciate. It remains amazing that various disciplines, and in this case theoretical physics, has developed rich mathematical modes that attempt to put the quantum and cosmos into perspective.
Date published: 2012-01-10
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Look Elsewhere I purchased this course well over a year ago. After viewing the first six lectures, I realized I wasn't getting much out of it. Perhaps if I came back to it after learning more about physics and astronomy the course would wear better. I studied Teaching Company courses on relativity, quantum mechanics, particle physics, dark matter/energy, cosmology and black holes. All were excellent. Coming back to Prof. Gates' string theory course, I viewed all 24 lectures. Did I learn much this time? No. Perhaps the problem is me or the difficulty of the subject matter. I found the lectures rambling, lacking good organization, and often hard to understand. Perhaps if I were already somewhat acquainted with string theory, this course would be more valuable. For a beginner like me, I would recommend finding other sources to learn about string theory.
Date published: 2011-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating Topic I found this course truly helpful. I didn't buy it hoping to be able to do string theory mathematics, nor did I expect to have a fully comprehensive understanding of string theory. I did want to understand it better than what we get from mainstream media! This course fully met my expectations and then some. I really appreciated the math the professor showed, while keeping it to a minimum. I know some people are disappointed in that. But I really wanted a good idea of what the math is representing, in what ways they are using math to make certain assumptions, etc. In addition, I learned more about physics, and I loved the professors computer animations. It really helped me understand what he was talking about, including the wonderful representation of certain theorems! I didn't find the professor pushing his own pet theories or projects, as some reviewers claimed. On the contrary, I found him to be quite humble, wonderful in reminding us continually this is a mathematical model without real world evidence, and his explanations for some of his opinions were clearly stated. This was a fantastic course on superstring theory, and while I sure couldn't join in and investigate string theories on my own, I have a better understanding of what physics professors are doing, what problems it may resolve, or not, and it was just interesting!
Date published: 2011-11-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Should be Called Dr Gate's Doodle Theory I really tried to go along with the good Professor and his Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) presentation of this subject. This is indeed a difficult subject to understand at best. But Professor Gates uses that fact to play games with those who seriously want to learn about this exciting possibility. I can handle simplification to try to get a point across. But I have difficulty when I am being talked down to and treated like a child both in his delivery and his mannerisms of cute little smiles at inappropriate places in the lecture. He insists that the only way to explain this complicated subject is through his CGI because it is all math, and math can only be talked about this way. "This way" apparently is his doodling. (He repeatedly refuses to write a book about his approach to the subject. Could that be because books can be held up to question, whereas computer graphics kept in real time are a fleeting phenomenon?) Whenever he got to a point that might be difficult to understand, he would make a comment like, "I'll need your imagination for this" or "This may be difficult for you to understand", followed by a display of circles and arrows of differing colors on his computer, which he insists shows you the math to prove his point. What math? No real graphs, some overdone equations, and a mathematical term here and there to convince you his doodles have merit. The course in String Theory is a valid issue. Dr Gates' treatment of the subject is pure fantasy. He also insists on stating over and over again that the theory has come this far thanks to his work and that of his collegues. The introduction to this course even suggests that his work complements that of Dr Wolfson and Dr Pollack in helping students understand the world of physics in their courses. I take exception to that statement in that both of those Professors deliver lucid, easily understood lectures in their courses which are a joy to listen to and watch. I have taken dozens of courses through the Teaching Company, and have rarely been anything other than truly impressed with the course content and the Professor delivering the lectures. The Company has a knack for matching content and professor. On this one they slipped. I'm not going to ask for my money back because I did get some benefit from taking the course. Was it of great value to me? Certainly not. Would I recommend this course to anyone else? Absolutely not. Note: If Dr Gates or the Teaching Company believe I have maligned him in any way, I sincerely appologize. This review reflects my sincere impressions of the course and the lecturer.
Date published: 2011-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is the real deal OK, this is the real deal. As with Prof. Vandiver (Virgil's Aeneid) and with superstring theory's professor Gates, as a former Terrapin I am a sucker for all things "University of Maryland". So, I am all agog about this course. Another reviewer has commented that due to the rigor and depth of this course it would be wise to first familiarize oneself with Einstein's theories and quantum mechanics. I agree wholeheartedly. But if you are looking for the real deal both in genuine material and undisputed master of the subject then this is the course for you. Again I say, "this is the real deal."
Date published: 2011-10-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A little less confusing than reality I've taken a few of the Teaching Company's science courses, and this one was by far the most intellectually challenging. Professor Gates can be either commended or faulted for having tried to include a nearly complete overview of a very complicated set of theories in one course. It depends on your preferences. Personally, I found it fascinating & it left me very curious to learn more. Superstring theory picks up where General Relativity & Quantum Mechanics leave off, so I highly recommend that you get a basic understanding of those theories before you tackle this course. Otherwise, it might seem like trying to follow a guide up Mt. Everest when you've never mountain climbed before.
Date published: 2011-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A very hard course This is by far, the hardest course I have taken from The Teaching Company. Each session I had to listen to 5 or 6 times, interspersed with re-reading the course Guide Book before I felt I understood what was being presented. Professor Gates really knows this subject but he frequently introduces a concept in great detail but then forgets to explain why he is introducing it and how it relates to the greater topic. If you do not get the connection, you get the impression that he is randomly skipping from topic to topic. An example is his 'spinor' explanation where he describes in great detail walking around a vector, then he introduces imaginary numbers followed by Grassman Numbers followed by Spinor's but he never ties it together. A vector diagram on a Mobius strip would have done wonders for my understanding. But, bottom line, I got 100% out of this course what I purchased it for, namely what String Theory is all about.
Date published: 2011-08-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wow! Dr. Gates is not only an MIT PhD, but he shares with us his years of learning and research in the most incredible manner. Having had had some really, really bad/indifferent physics professors at Cal Berkeley many years ago it was such a pleasure to sit back and listen to this man. Of course he is competent in the course content, but each lecture is presented in the most perspicuous way. He does such a remarkable job in presenting the most abstreuse ideas from quantum mechanics and general relativity with grace and competence and humor. It would take many years to develop the background to really "understand" this subject on the level of a professional physicist. But Dr. Gates gives the layperson, someone without tensor calculus or quantum mechanics, a glass through which to perceive what the the subject is about, a glimpse into an incredibly difficult and abstract field. That he does this in only twenty-four lessons is a remarkable achievement even for such a master teacher as he.
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Complex subject but well done I am not a math person I hate math But this subject fascinates me. I learn t a lot I will watch again.
Date published: 2011-07-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Too Many Leaps Professor Gates is a very good lecturer but there are leaps of faith in the course - when talking about a certain type of numbers, there are, all of a sudden, negative numbers. It seemed as if they were made up to fit the equation. I think that without the math (which is what string theory is) things such as that require more time. Also, much more review of material was needed. Theories were built upon theories with terms I've never heard (and I've read a bit on this), with the professor stating that we discussed that in the past - I barely remembered the term as there was so much thrown at us and I listened to the course over a month. Much more repetition was needed. Also, I'd rather hear, on something incredibly esoteric, "trust me" than an attempt at an explanation that's beyond the time limit of the course... I
Date published: 2011-06-24
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