Over the last few years the words string theory have nudged their way into public consciousness. It's a theory of everything in which everything's made of strings — or something like that. But why strings? What do they do? Where did the idea come from and why do we need such a theory? David Berman has an equation-free introduction for beginners.
One of the many strange ideas from quantum mechanics is that space isn't continuous but consists of tiny chunks. Ordinary geometry is useless when it comes to dealing with such a space, but algebra makes it possible to come up with a model of spacetime that might do the trick. And it can all be tested by a satellite. Shahn Majid met up with Plus to explain.
Everyone knows what symmetry is, and the ability to spot it seems to be hard-wired into our brains. Mario Livio explains how not only shapes, but also laws of nature can be symmetrical, and how this aids our understanding of the universe.
Most of us are aware that Einstein proved that everything was relative ... or something like that. But we go no further, believing that we aren't clever enough to understand what he did. Hardeep Aiden sets out to persuade readers that they too can understand an idea as elegantly simple as it was original.
This issue of Plus is a special, marking the occasion of Stephen Hawking's 60th birthday. Plus attended his Birthday Conference in Cambridge, where we interviewed some of the world's most influential mathematicians and physicists.