Sunday, July 06, 2008

Day Four of Eurostrings 2008

The morning began breakfastless, and a little breathless, rushing from the shower to the conference. By day four conference fatigue was beginning to set in. It had absoulutely nothing to do with the Belgian-beer filled discussions. None whatsoever. However day four proved to give second wind to the meeting, filled with very interesting talks that I hope to give a flavour of here.

The morning review lecture was given by Samir D. Mathur, he does not like horizons, well at least those around black holes. One has to sympathise - is it really acceptable to cut a singularity out of a theory? Mathur prefers a fuzzball picture, where the black hole horizon becomes a statistical entity, emerging macrosopically - the canonical comparison is with temperature in the thermodynamical picture. In thermodynamics the temperature is a statistical quantity that can be measured over a large number of microscopic states, but if you sat on a hydrogen molecule (well maybe you already are, but what I mean is, if you had the molecule's view of a gas) you would be able to say a few things about your nearest neighbours relative velocities, and only with a large amount of time would you collect enough information to speak with confidence of the average molecular speed, or temperature. To a microscopic state the temperature is an odd concept, supposedly the black hole horizon is also an odd concept to a gravitational microstate. The fuzzball proposal functionally aims to reproduce the macrosopic black hole phenomena from collections of microstates. The brane microstates themselves do not have horizons in this setup, the horizon appears in the averaging over a large number of brane states. Old and familiar properties of black holes are reproduced in this picture, light can be trapped behind the horizon by an elaborate setup up of light deflecting states, Hawking temperatures can be reproduced and lately Hawking radiation can be produced by pair-production. For an introduction to the proposal you can read his papers here and here. The proposal offers a way to side-step Hawking's information paradox. Mathur's discussion of the information paradox can be read in this preprint, where he aims to make a review using pictures.

Kurt Vonnegut used to use a technique of repeating a small, catchy phrase when something of particular note happened in a sentence of his (e.g. in Cat's Cradle each reference to slipping off the mortal coil earns a: so it goes, or in Timequake ting-a-ling is the catchphrase). I think everytime someone tries to explain something with pictures I would like to insert a cowbell noise. So here's to Mathur: *cowbell*.

Mathur's title this morning was "Lessons from resolving the information paradox". He threw out the notion two charge non-extremal black holes have a singular throat in the spacetime, the geometry may become complicated but not singular. We heard about tunnelling in fuzzball geometries, radiation and pair-creation, which you can read about in the links.

After coffee, we had talks from Eric D'Hoker ("Exact 1/2 BPS solutions in type IIB and M-theory"), Dario Francia ("Unconstrained higher spins and current exchanges") and Diego Chialva ("Chain inflation revisited").

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Halfday Wednesday

Well Wednesday of Eurostrings 2008 was a half day - the afternoon was left free to enjoy the pleasures of Amsterdam, or to work furiously on the latest Bagger-Lambert paper. So, of course, in honour of the half day here's a half-blog entry. Instead of writing only half sentences I will aim to halve my number of full sentences.

The weather in Amsterdam understood that it was a half day for our conference. Upto midday it was a balmy 27 degrees and sunny, but as I settled in for lunch an almighty, apocalyptic thunder storm came in, as you can perhaps see in the photo (starring Erik Tonni [left] and Diederik Roest [not left]). Erik and Diederik suggested that Bagger-Lambert theory may be getting too close to the truth for the almighty being's liking, and like the Tower of Babel, was about to be toppled by the ensuing thunderstorm. The storm passed, while I ate a very nice sandwich. I am not suggesting any causal connection between the weather and my digestion, but let's not rule it out.

Due to a lack of sleep here in Amsterdam, I all but missed the morning session (not a smart move on a half-day) so I am one of the worst people to tell you what was discussed. However let me put up the titles and one or two suggested papers. Perhaps a fellow Eurostring-ite who may stumble this way can let me know some more about the talks? The schedule was:
  • "Strongly coupled Quark-Gluon Plasma and AdS/CFT" by Edward Shuryak, see, perhaps, the paper here
  • "Is the AdS S-matrix simple?" by Romuald Janik (I was told that the short answer is: no)
  • Herman Verlinde gave a blackboard talk.
  • "Building a holographic superconductor" by Gary Horowitz.
I caught the final talk, on the relatively hot ;) topic of trying to undertand superconduction through the AdS/CFT correspondence. This was the same topic that Denef discussed on Tuesday, but today the role of the AdS background was emphasised in order to capture the charged scalar field around the black hole. The picture does not carry over to the Minkowksi background. Recall that the AdS/CFT correspondence has been invoked to describe heavy ion collisions and condensed matter physics, and even the quantum Hall effect has had a dual gravitational description given. The aim at present is to find the gravitational dual picture of superconductivity. The aim is to find a black hole solution that at some point grows hair. To read more about this see the preprint here.

The afternoon was filled with discussion and imported Coca-Cola.

The evening with discussion and beer.

Your humble correspondent flagellates himself gently for missing the talks.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Day Two of Eurostrings 2008

Another day, another cup of soup and a sandwich for lunch. Today it was ham soup and a pineapple sandwich (my Dutch and my taste buds are not good enough to understand what the other ingredients were).

This morning we had a review lecture on the pure spinor formalism by Nathan Berkovits. If you want to learn this formalism, why not start with the reviews here (and here [or the blog article here]) and then end with the paper here. If you do this in one-and-a-half hours, but ensure you explain it to yourself very clearly, you will have your own simulation of this morning's nice review. Or, if you are feeling little tired, you could watch the video of Yaron Oz's lectures to the CERN winter school.

Following Berkovits, Andreas Gustavsson, the third man of the present Bagger-Lambert multiple membranes revolution, spoke on..."Multiple M2's". He included his paper from last year and his more recent work on how the membrane triple product identity aids amplitude calculations. His talk was followed by thirty minutes from Frederik Denef, talking under the title of "the string landscape of quantum critical superconductors", which refers to work in progress with Sean Hartnoll. The central theme was that there are two landscapes in physics. The string theory landscape, constructed inside a unique fundamental theory (M-theory), with low energy excitations (gravitons, "3-formons" :) and superpartners) and where the intricate landscape is considered "party-spoiling". The second landscape is the condensed matter landscape, constructed from a unique theory (the standard model), with low energy excitations (neutrons, protons and electrons) and where the landscpe is still intricate but is useful. The heuristic message is that these two landscapes may be very similar. Denef gave us a toy model two dimensional array of spin one-half particles that illustrated the idea of quantum critical points - points in phase space where a second order phase transition occurs at zero temperature. The crucial features are all summed up in his graph:
A second example of criticality involved superconductors and whose features were given by a toy-modelin two dimensions: a Bose-Hubbard model. There is a phase transition between being an insulator and being a superconductor. This picture was to be compared with a charged scalar field in a Reisner-Nordstrom AdS background. The idea (due to Gubser) was that there is a quantum critical point here too that separates insulation from superconductivity. Namely when electrostatic repulsion of the charged scalar is larger than its gravitational attraction towards the singularity in the space-time, then a halo or cloud of charge forms around the black-hole. This is the superconducting picture. Otherwise the charge falls into the horizon and we have the insulating picture. We are to expect to hear more about this superconducting phase from Gary Horowitz tomorrow. Denef told us one could be optimistic that this picture could be constructed in string theory. Citing the "Gravity=Weakest force" paper of Arkani-Hamed, Motl, Nicolis and Vafa, Denef said that Reissner-Nordstrom black-holes should be able to decay and so there was an expectation that the electrostatic repulsion > gravitational attraction regime should exist. Perhaps microscopic physics and macroscopic physics are not so different after all?

In the last morning talk, Giulio Bonelli spoke under the title "On gauge/string correspondence and mirror symmetry" and you can read his preprint here. In the afternoon we heard an exuberant Vijay Balasubramanian talk about getting something from nothing. His title was "Statistical predictions from anarchic field theory landscapes". Out of chaos certain coarse-grained properties could become predictable he said, read more in the preprint. The final thirty minute talk of the day was given by Diederik Roest, who talked on my favourite subject: "The Kac-Moody algebras of supergravity". The talk covered decomposition of the algebra, the correspondence between de-forms, top forms and E(11) (preprint) and also his work with Axel Kleinschmidt on identifying the Kac-Moody algebras that are appropriate to three dimensional scalar theories with a quarter or less of the full supersymmetry (preprint). After coffee, we had a gong show for some researchers but unfortunately we had no gong. Poor Pierre Vanhove must have been kicking himself that he hadn't packed his legendary cowbell...

On my walk back home I encountered two mathematical omens in odd places, first a van that seemed like it could go to infinity and beyond:
And, second, I saw the hotel I should have been staying at:
Unfortunately there were no giraffes helping zebras to escape the circus... despite this bizarre story I'm not sure that truth is stranger than fiction. In fiction the same story could have happened but the giraffe might have been smoking a cuban cigar and saying that he loved it when a plan came together and all the while Pierre Vanhove skipping in front leading the animals with the merry din of his cowbell.