I’ve written before about the String Vacuum Project (back in 2006 and 2008), and there was a story about it in Nature. This week they are having an SVP 2010 Spring Meeting at the KITP, talks available here.
A proposal to the NSF for funding of the String Vacuum Project was first made five years or so ago, but I had heard that this and later versions hadn’t been successful. In recent years perhaps the main proponent of the project has been Keith Dienes of the University of Arizona, who organized its last meeting in Tucson two years ago. Dienes started work as a program manager at NSF last fall. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the SVP now has funding through an NSF grant for $150K this year, with the grant paying for bi-annual meetings (of which I guess the KITP one is the first). While “the PIs are proposing a String Vacuum Project (SVP) network with eight geographic nodes”, the grant sponsor is the University of Arizona, where the co-PI for the grant is Shufang Su, a phenomenologist who doesn’t seem to have any history of working on string vacua.
Well, at least stimulus funding is helping get the SVP off the ground…
Update: After looking through some of the workshop talks, it’s very unclear to me what the “String Vacuum Project” actually is. At this point it appears to just be a mechanism for getting the NSF to fund three graduate students working on string phenomenology. From the talk by Michael Douglas you learn that it’s very unclear what a string vacuum even is. It appears to involve an intractable large unknown space (including e.g. “all six manifolds”), with an unknown effective potential on it, with disagreements among practicioners about whether the effective potential is a sensible thing to look at.
Not surprisingly, the discussion session about what the project should be doing was a sad thing to watch. One of the main topics was the SVP Wiki, which people hope to improve. Maybe it’s been moved somewhere else, but the only address I know for it (here) has been down for quite a while.
Update: More discussion showing the current level of understanding (nil) of string vacua here.
Update: There is now a new String Vacuum Project web-site.