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Foreign Travel For Physics Workshop

March 28, 2007

CEPS assistant professor of physics Per Berglund traveled to Germany last month to participate in a theoretical physics workshop on Generalized Geometry and Flux Compactifications, held at DESY in Hamburg. His travel report follows.

"DESY, the German Electron Synchrotron, is one of the world's leading particle accelerators used to study the fundamental constituents of nature and their interactions. I was one of about 40 invited speakers from the United States and Europe.

The meeting focused on recent developments in string compactifications. String theory, a leading candidate for a unifying theory of the basic forces in nature, posits that the fundamental objects are one-dimensional strands, strings, rather than the traditional point-like particles.

Compactification, in which extra dimensions are made small and compact, is an important aspect of string theory. Through this process, the ten-dimensional spacetime predicted by string theory can be transcribed to the four- (three space and one time) dimensional universe we know. Earlier studies have shown that properties of these extra dimensions, such as the size of the compact dimensions, have physical manifestations in our universe, for example the rapid expansion of the early universe, inflation, and the existence of dark energy, which gives rise to the recently observed accelerated expansion of the universe.

At the workshop I presented ongoing work on the connection between string theory and the early universe, done in collaboration with colleagues from University of Pennsylvania and University of California, Berkeley. Recent observations of the so called Cosmic Microwave Background radiation (the Nobel Prize in physics, 2006) give us a very detailed picture of what the universe looked like when it was only a fraction of a second old. This in turn constrains the possible sizes and shapes that the extra dimensions in string theory can take, and allows us to in principle probe string theory. Future observations, will give even more precise data, that can further pinpoint properties that string theory and its extra dimensions have to possess, in order for the theory to be the correct description of Nature.

Much of the focus of the workshop was on generalizing the original geometric constructions in compactifying string theory from ten to four dimensions. When fluxes (non-trivial electromagnetic fields) are allowed in the internal space it leads to a new class of spaces, generalized geometries, which only recently have been studied by mathematicians.

People have also considered spaces that do not even have a geometric interpretation at all, though they are perfectly consistent from the point of view of string theory. The generalized constructions allows for a unified picture of the possibilities in connecting our four dimensional universe with the ten dimensions of string theory.

Workshops like these are essential for exchanging ideas between theorists, leading to new projects. Dr. Alexander Westphal, of SISSA, Trieste, Italy, and I discussed the possibility of applying my recent ideas on inflation and string theory to a set of models he has studied, and that he presented at the meeting. His recent work in turn is a generalization of research I did a couple of years ago with Professor Vijay Balasubramanian at University of Pennsylvania.

My participation in the Hamburg workshop planted seeds for ongoing and reinvigorated long-term collaborations with international colleagues. The host of the workshop, Professor Jan Louis of the University of Hamburg, offered me a standing invitation for a follow-up visit to his university.

The collegial nature of the Hamburg meeting also afforded me the opportunity to arrange for visits of several of my colleagues to come to UNH during the upcoming year. Drs. Stephan Stieberger and Joeseph Conlon, of Munich University and Cambridge University, respectively, will be visiting campus at various times during the spring, and I am still working with Dr. Alessandro Tomasiello, of Stanford University, to arrange for a fall visit to UNH."

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