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.
From a physics outsider’s perspective the SVP certainly sounds like the kind of thing the string theory community ought to be encouraged in. If the landscape is unavoidable then we ought to at least make some sort of effort to determine what it looks like?
The thing that interests me about the SVP is the attempt to do that census or sampling of string vacua. The NSF grant says they will be funding students to work on that? I’m not sure I can see much sign of that particular effort in the SVP talk descriptions but I don’t think I’d know what to look for. I wonder, are they still planning on making that online database of vacua they’ve analyzed?
The problem is that there has already been a great deal of effort put into looking at string vacua, with discouraging results. Most string theorists acknowledge this, and don’t work on this sort of thing.
When the SVP started many years ago, part of the plan was to try and gather enough data to make statistical predictions of some sort. The initial hope was that you could at least tell whether supersymmetry breaking was likely to be at high or low energy scale. That failed and people seem to no longer believe statistical predictions are possible, so I don’t see what you would do with an accumulated database of string vacua. It’s rather unclear to me what the specific plan of the SVP project is now, it will be interesting to see what comes of their discussions at the KITP this week.
Indeed surely a coincidence, since NSF program officers abide very strictly by conflict of interest regulations.
I’ve just completed the CPP (Cubic Polynomial Project). I’ve enumerated every cubic polynomial with complex coefficients, and have created an online database of results which is integrated into Wolfram Alpha. Just go there and type in a polynomial, it will show you the results of my analysis. Now I am applying for NSF funding to do the same for quartic polynomials.
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