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Is a string theory science project feasible in highschool?

  1. Nov 7, 2009 #1

    I just joined this forum a few minutes ago because I'm thinking of joining my high school science research program to research string theory. For those of you who don't know about the programs, basically you research something for three years and then you enter it in the Intel Talent search. I really would like to research string theory, however I'm not sure if it's possible due to the high level of math needed. I'm currently taking trigonometry, do you think there's anyway I could do a project on this?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2009 #2


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    Welcome to PF!

    Hi MusicTheorist! Welcome to PF! :smile:

    Well, string theory is a clever mathematical way of summing infinite series in quantum field theory, and quantum field theory requires knowledge of quantum theory and linear algebra, and …

    so I'd recommend against it.

    (and it's mostly maths, so would that satisfy the program anyway?)

    How about something related to music, or to sound generally?
  4. Nov 8, 2009 #3
    As soon as you learn waves, you will be able to understand "the wave mechanics". It is all about different wavy motions.
  5. Nov 8, 2009 #4
    Thanks for the replies.

    I was thinking of doing a project on music, but I don't particularly want to because being a composer myself I feel that researching music scientifically would make it lose it's magic.

    I am a pretty fast learner, even faster if I teach myself. I'm not a great math student I'll say that, except most of that is because when I was in 7th, 8th, and 9th grades I either couldn't pay attention (I needed glasses and couldn't see) or was too immature to pay attention so I missed out on a lot of the important concepts that everything I do in math now is built on.

    I find though that when I teach myself the math from a book I can learn it really fast and really well. Do you think I could teach myself the math in a year and then use the next two years to do the research?
  6. Nov 8, 2009 #5
    Frankly, I have no idea. I am too different - I am a slow learner and slow researcher.
  7. Nov 8, 2009 #6
    Hmmm, well, could you recommend a book or something that is pretty dense? This way I could have an idea of what I'd be getting myself into.
  8. Nov 8, 2009 #7
    I am afraid you have to follow the school program at least. As I am a foreigner (Russian) I have no idea about books in your country.
  9. Nov 8, 2009 #8


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    What do you know about the physics of sound?

    One of the most interesting physics courses I ever took was devoted to the physics of sound.
    And it was also surprisingly easy, or maybe the teacher was just very good. His name was Crawford, at UC Berkeley. Retired now. Could do all kinds of experiments and get you to experiment with sound on your own.

    Unfortunately I don't see much on Google about physics of sound.

    I do see this bit about "acoustic illusions" which are the auditory analogs of optical illusions.
    http://www-cip.physik.uni-bonn.de/~scheller/acoustic-illusions/main.html [Broken]

    My advice would be to learn all you can about vibration and sound, especially if it can relate to something you can hear or see or experience in some way.

    Do you know about dispersion and dispersive media? There are channels in which different frequencies travel at different speeds---there is not just one single fixed speed of sound, but it depends on the pitch. Strange effect. A tunnel can cause dispersion.

    Do you know how air-temperature affects the pitch of a pipe-organ's notes? Did you know that the speed of sound determines how the length of the tube is related to pitch? And do you know how the air-temperature affects the speed of sound?

    What do you know about diffraction---how waves get around barriers. It depends on wavelength. This can effect how at the beach the waves crashing onto the beach sound different when you are behind different barriers.

    What do you know about resonance. About filters? Filters do not have to be electronic.
    All kinds of vibration are interesting and can involve non-obvious effects.

    There is a lot of hype surrounding string, raising unfounded expectations. But at least the concept involves (at a primitive level) vibration. String theory may never pan out, might just be a dead-end as a unifying ToE. And end up as a collection of special purpose mathematical techniques, useful in various limited ways. It is looking more and more like that. But at least the concept of vibration is something it shares with the real world---and the world of the senses.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. Nov 8, 2009 #9
    Well, what I'm really interested more in is parallel worlds, baby universes, things like that, so maybe I shouldn't have called it string theory...

    I barely know anything about waves. I just finished going over a basic chapter about waves in chemistry this year...but outside of that I know nothing.
  11. Nov 8, 2009 #10
    OP, I would recommend against string theory in high school. I'm a first year college student (chemistry major though, not physics), and I'm pretty sure that all courses that even get into the most basic aspects of string theory are all 400 level. I have a feeling the math is just too advanced (although I could be wrong) for a high school student.

    That doesn't mean you can't get into some really interesting things though. I'm covering some basic quantum chemistry right now, and I feel like the Schrodinger Wave Equation might be a good topic if you want to do something really advanced. It's a highly physical approach to describing electron behavior in atoms, and once you understand some of the basics, it leads to some really interesting and counterintuitive implications. String theory involves infinite series, some of which are absolute hell to calculate, while the SWE usually only goes as high as differential equations (still not easy, but not as hard as infinite series summations).

    I'm not going to tell you what to do, since I don't know your abilities or interests, but I would definitely recommend starting with something a little easier than string theory. The best physicists in the world are still stuck on a lot of problems with it, so it may be too advanced for you. I might be biased toward the wave equation because I'm a chemistry major, but if you're looking to get into some more advanced physics for a project, the SWE (or anything in quantum mechanics really) might be a little more realistic (and just as interesting!).
  12. Nov 8, 2009 #11
    Sorry, I didn't read this until after I posted my response. A good place to start looking for a topic would be "Physics of the Impossible" by Michio Kaku. Some of the things he says are pretty idealistic and impractical, but the science behind his ideas is pretty solid as far as I can tell. If you read through a few chapters of his book, you'll definitely come across some really interesting things. You could easily make a list of possible project topics just from reading a few sections; he covers a lot of the things you mentioned that you're interested in. Even if you don't use any of his ideas, he has some pretty interesting things to say.
  13. Nov 8, 2009 #12
    Funny you should mention Kaku, my father picked up a copy of Kaku's Parallel Worlds at the bookstore today and I've been skimming through it. I was going to start reading it within the next few days.

    I'll look into the SWE. I'm interested in pretty much anything that's really abstract.

    Thanks for the really helpful responses!
  14. Nov 8, 2009 #13


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  15. Nov 8, 2009 #14


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    Actually you could make a decent presentation about string theory at the highschool level. Something along the lines of 'the Elegant Universe' b/c stating the facts and general ideas isn't particularly hard.

    Generically the material (without the math) is too simple for a college undergrad presentation, but just about right for high school.
  16. Nov 8, 2009 #15
    I think you should reconsider this position. Very few things offended me as much as when I was told I can no longer enjoy a rainbow since I understand how they happen. Let me tell you, it's wrong.

    You can easily decipher the tricks Mozart drives you into, study a piece for weeks, yet still enjoy it possibly even more.

    Music theory is very much developed mathematically. Composers such as Boulez have thought of the way waves travel in space and time, included constraints for the space and time positions of their orchestra. He even lead a group creating the necessary electronic tools for his visions. Music just as physics or mathematics is a story written by humanity as a whole, every composer sitting on the shoulders of giants.
  17. Nov 8, 2009 #16


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  18. Nov 8, 2009 #17


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    BTW, humanino is of course right (except for the "easily") - all the great composers were very, very interested in musical technique.
  19. Nov 8, 2009 #18
    I do know that theory is very much based in mathematics - I'm in AP Theory now and it's almost like a math course. It has helped me appreciate music more actually so I agree with you.

    Still, for some reason I'm just not that interested in doing a project on music. I'm not sure why. It tends to be that when I really want to do something (in this case string theory) it's extremely hard to get myself out of that mindset. Maybe I just have to do a little convincing.
  20. Nov 9, 2009 #19
    Well, of course it helps it have a teacher, and I meant that it is easier with Mozart than with more recent composers.
  21. Nov 9, 2009 #20


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    I had noticed a lot of musicians hating the math of harmony, scales, etc, but I though that it was just a consequence of the self-teached approach to music, plus hate of academic formalism. I had neved thought about "losing magic"; but yes it could. Note that the same applies, by the way, to parallel universes, baby bangs or whatever science exotics.

    Were I to think on a math/music project for highschool, I would go for theory of scales: pythagorean, well-tempered, pentatonal, etc. On a physics/music project, I would go for drum waves. The classical experience, putting flour in the membrane of the drum and vibrating it with a violin arc, is still pretty, and it allows for modern variations (high speed photography, wave input from modern music instead of the violin arc ...)
    http://www.cuatro.com/el-hormiguero/videos/ciencia-flipa-ensena-ciencia-miley-cyrus/20090422ctoultpro_5/ [Broken] min 2:42 for an example in a pop program.
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