Strings 2006

Strings 2006 is about to get underway in Beijing, at a hotel next to Tiananmen Square, with public talks by David Gross, Andy Strominger and Stephen Hawking. Jonathan Shock reports that an agreement was formally signed today creating the KITPC, a Chinese version of the KITP, to be funded by philanthropist Fred Kavli and sited in Beijing.

The conference will attract about 400 physicists from around the world, as well as international press from many major European and American publications. There will be a press conference held Wednesday afternoon. Monday afternoon Witten will be giving the first scientific talk of the conference, on “Gauge Theory and Geometric Langlands Program”. He has given talks at almost all the Strings conferences since the first in 1995, but this will be the first one at which he won’t be talking about string theory. He will be followed by Cumrun Vafa, who will talk about his Swampland studies. On Tuesday evening, the schedule says “Prof. Yau present his new research result”, which presumably will be about the proof of the Poincare conjecture.

Monday evening will feature a panel discussion, which could get exciting. Last year’s panel discussion in Toronto featured Jacques Distler walking out in a huff, pointed questions from the floor about whether research in string theory was still defensible, and a clash between the panel, which was rather in favor of the anthropic landscape, and the rest of the conference attendees, who were very much against. Perhaps the Strings 2006 organizers, unlike the SUSY06 ones, will be able to find a prominent theorist who is not in favor of the anthropic landscape to put on the panel. An obvious candidate who will be there is David Gross, who at Strings 2003 gave a rousing Churchillian speech urging string theorists to not give up on science, and around that time suggested that his colleague Joe Polchinski had contracted a disease and should consider giving up his professorship (Polchinski in return accused Gross and Witten of being members of a cult). Gross hasn’t been publicly heard from on this topic recently, perhaps he has moderated his opinions and/or gone over to the other side.

Update: This posting has been edited, and many comments related to despicable behavior of a certain Harvard faculty member have been removed. I’m looking forward to hearing reports of what is going on at Strings 2006 from anyone attending.

Update: It turns out that Kavli is founding two new institutes in China, one for theoretical physics, one for astronomy and astrophysics. There’s more about this here. The Chinese press has also started to report on the conference, as usual media attention focuses on Stephen Hawking and the origin of the universe.

Update: Victor Rivelles is blogging from the conference, where he reports that 3000 people gathered in the Great Hall normally used for communist party meetings to hear promotional talks about strings. He also reports that the panel discussion was uneventful, with no mention of the landscape:

In the evening we had the panel discussion with 13 people. Strominger was chairing it. No real debate. Too mild. Some interesting questions but none of them provocative enough. No discussion on the landscape either. Toronto was much better…

Update: There’s an article in Tuesday’s New York Times about Hawking and the Beijing conference by Dennis Overbye. According to Overbye there are 800 physicists there and 6000 people turned out to hear Hawking. Anyone know if this is right?

Update: There’s a detailed report on the first day of the conference from Jonathan Shock.

Update: Victor Rivelles reports on day 2 of the conference. He describes Yau as taking credit for proving the Poincare Conjecture, which, if true, would be seriously misleading. ChinaDaily describes the number of physicists at the conference as 600. I’m guessing that 400 is the number of participants from outside China, 6-800 the total number. If so, this would be the largest string theory conference ever held.

Update: Day 3 report from Victor Rivelles, who seems to be have the mistaken impression that there are two Brian Greenes…

Update: Day 4 report from Victor Rivelles, who clears up the two Brian Greenes confusion. Brian couldn’t make it to Beijing, so his talk was given by Koenraad Schalm. Also a report from Jonathan Shock.

Update: More reports from Jonathan Shock (aided by Paul Cook), and Victor Rivelles. The publicly announced plan until now has been to have Strings 2007 in Madrid, Strings 2008 at CERN, and Strings 2009 in Rome. Rivelles reports a rumor that the CERN conference will be delayed until 2009, Rome then in 2010. Summer 2009 is when LHC results may start to appear, so he comments:

… if supersymmetry is found in 2008 then we all will be together to celebrate it and if it is not found we will be together for a collective suicidal.

Update: There’s a wrap-up of the conference from Jonathan Shock, including a description of Dijkgraaf’s summary talk. I have no idea if it is accurate, but it makes Dijkgraaf sound highly unrealistic

…LHC, astroparticle physics and the next generation of microwave observers may give us real signs of string theory in the coming years…

…a golden age of physics?


…Douglas et al’s recent work showing the finiteness of the number of vacuum solutions

and just tasteless

the possibility of success for loop quantum gravity, though this tactic ended with an own goal, and rapturous applause.

So far no sign that the organizers of the conference of the conference will be putting up any materials from it on the web, so that people who weren’t there can see for themselves what the speakers had to say.

It also seems that Dijkgraaf commented favorably on the very reasonable censorship policies of the Chinese government:

One particularly important point was that being behind the great firewall, people could read Peter Woit’s blog but not Lubos Motl’s!

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35 Responses to Strings 2006

  1. Ryan says:

    Not to nitpick, but it’s spelled “Tiananmen.” I had to look it up, but I knew there was another “n” in there.

  2. woit says:

    Thanks Ryan, fixed.

  3. Peter Motl says:

    Last time i checked, there’s no canonical way for spelling chinese words in english.

  4. Troublemaker says:

    Then you’ve never heard of any of the standard transliteration schemes for writing Chinese in the Latin alphabet.

  5. MathPhys says:

    Is the Strings 2006 web site difficult to navigate and find information in, or do I imagine things?

  6. Peter Woit says:


    The Strings 2006 web-site is difficult to navigate. The “What’s New” section doesn’t appear to have been updated since two months ago. I’m hoping that various bloggers will help fill the information gap…

  7. hongbaozhang says:

    When String06 starts in Beijing, Loop driver Carlo Rovelli comes to Center of Gravitation in China—Beijing Normal University. He will give series lectures on construction of scattering amptitude in loop quantum gravity. Today he gave the first one, which is so physical and clear. I enjoy it.

  8. Who says:

    This is wonderful!

    I think someone with a name similar to yours was at the Loops ’05 conference where Rovelli gave a talk about constructing graviton in LQG. Maybe you heard this talk. (I could not come to the meeting and did not.)

    It amazes me that Rovelli is talking at Beijing Normal about LQG scattering amplitudes now at the same time as Strings ’06. This was a creative move by the planners, or by somebody at Beijing Normal. It was a good new idea to do this, in my humble opinion.

  9. This is a very exciting time to be in science. Some branches of theory look increasingly like medieval epicycles (you all have opinions on which ones) but there is opportunity for huge advances in science. Hopefully this conference will result in much useful conflict!
    My Chinese travels described this week found a fascinating and vibrant society. Since the Chinese are so interested in energy, perhaps a theorist will sell them something they really want. That may result in all sorts of funding. Any ideas?

  10. hack says:

    I had heard than Strominger went through a Maoist phase in his youth. Preaching strings in the People’s Hall seems quite appropriate.

  11. Who says:

    Hongbao Zhang,
    sorry I made a mistake. I see you are author of a number of articles in Phys. Rev. D, some of them about Loop Quantum Gravity and related proposals. But it was someone else, a Dr. Hua Zhang, who was at the Loops ’05 conference last October in Potsdam.

  12. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    Haha, new message for the link from here to Motl’s blog:

    You have attempted to visit a serious physics-oriented page from a major crackpots’ discussion forum called “Not Even Wrong”. That generated an error message. In 15 seconds, you will be redirected to the main page of “The Reference Frame”.

    This policy is designed to reduce the amount of garbage and spam that the crackpots attempt to post on “The Reference Frame”, especially the targetted garbage ordered and provoked by the owner of “Not Even Wrong”. If you’re not a crackpot, we appologize for inconvenience.”

  13. Peter Woit says:

    Please, I’m trying to stick to John Baez’s excellent advice that the effort needed to ignore Lubos is amply repaid. No more about his idiocies here, if you must, use the recent posting related to him.

  14. Yidun says:

    Dear Who,

    Hongbao Zhang is not Hua Zhang. Hongbao focuses on cosmology and gravity. He does have couple of papers, coauthored by Prof. Ling Yi, who is a former student Prof. Smolin’s at Penn State. Hua Zhang is another graduate student, working on canonical QG with Prof. Yongge Ma, who gave a talk in Loops’05 last year.

    Best, Y.

  15. MathPhys says:

    In case anyone is still unable to find the conference program, you do as follows

    1. Click on “Agenda and arrangements” somewhere in the middle on left panel.
    2. Ignore the table titled “Program and Reports” that occupies almost the entire page. That’s no longer being updated. It just sits there.
    3. Look for a link on top that says “(PDF file)” (it’s to the left of an unlinked picture).
    4. Click that to get a pdf file titled “schedule5.pdf”.

  16. hongbaozhang says:

    To Who,
    Who is who?:)

  17. Hans de Vries says:

    Weed smokin’ 2006 in Beijng….

    Link from LM about the current conference over there….
    The contrary effect (as usual?) it seems. Sorry, couldn’t help being
    amuzed :^)

    Regards Hans

  18. Hans de Vries says:

    Weed smokin’ 2006 in Beijing

    OK, the saved screen-shot then:

    Regards, Hans

  19. mathjunkie says:

    I like the name Peter Motl!

  20. Pindare says:

    Peter, you said Witten won’t be speaking about string theory for the first time at a Strings conference. I’ve noticed he’ll be giving a set of lectures at Berkeley next november, and probably this will also be about Langlangs stuff, not strings (there’s no program yet).

    Question is: has Witten decided to do some maths until the LHC data arrives just as a side project, or has he in fact started doing this to be able to quickly jump off the bandwagon in case nothing much comes out of LHC?

  21. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks for the link to the announcement of Witten’s lectures.

    I doubt that his decision about what to work on has anything to do with the question of what will come out of the LHC. If he had a good idea about LHC energy scale phenomenology, he’d probably be working on that. His decision to work on a more mathematical topic related to gauge theory presumably just reflects the fact that this is where he sees how to make some progress, and he doesn’t see how to make any progress on string theory at the present time.

  22. D.J. says:

    “In 1988, Hawking published his great book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, which is still considered by the scientific community to be a milestone.”

    What can I say?…

  23. Peter Woit says:


    Well, it was a milestone, convincing many publishers and scientists that there was a mass-market for popular books about science…

  24. Dear Peter,

    I can’t asnwer your comment in my blog because blogspot is blocked in China. Please see the update in my post for an asnwer to your comment.

    All the best,


  25. Stalyn says:


    “It has long been suspected that the Langlands correspondence is somehow related to various dualities observed in quantum field theory and string theory.”

    You can also find notes for a lecture with the same title given by Witten dated August 2005.

  26. Aaron Bergman says:

    From the math side of things, I give you The Ben-Zvi Repository of All Things Langlands. Recently updated and now including valuable and little known television references.

  27. csrster says:

    Maybe some people have trouble spelling “millstone”?


  28. Steven H. Cullinane says:

    Xinhua has a story
    from June 20 on Yau showing a video in Beijing of a talk by Hamilton on the Poincare conjecture. This Xinhua story is rather Sinocentric, but it is balanced nicely by a document from China’s Morningside Center of Mathematics that gives a more complete record of Hamilton’s talk.

  29. Jean-Paul says:

    This incredible success of strings in China reminds me of fading stars like Michael Jackson trimphant tour of Germany few years ago or Prince’s full-stadium concerts in Switzerland in the early 90′s. Hopefully, the new KITP will help Chinese to focus on the cutting edge of science intead of wasting time on failed ideas or on multiverses.

  30. Nick says:

    I just posted a rather scathing reply at to Hawking’s remark from the seminar where he said he was “very worried about global warming,” and that he was afraid that Earth “might end up like Venus, at 250 degrees centigrade and raining sulfuric acid.”

    He has become so detached from scientific reality it is ludicrous. Why is he still respected?

    I of course included a link to Not Even Wrong, as well as Junk Science’s global warming debunking, as well as Crichton’s “Aliens Cause Global Warming” lecture.

    I’m glad to have found this blog, and appreciate all of your efforts to bring sanity back to science.

  31. Peter Woit says:

    Nick and others,

    Please stop attempts to involve me and this blog in the climate change debate, which seems to me to be almost entirely carried on by people who don’t know what they are talking about. I want no part of it, and it has nothing to do with the concerns of this blog, which deals with particle physics and mathematics.

  32. MathPhys says:

    I’m disappointed that the String 2006 talks are not posted online, videos, transparencies and all. It’s not hard work, and it’s a great service for the entire community.

  33. MathPhys says:

    The Cao-Zhu paper is not online (everybody else’s papers on the subject are, including Perelman’s), and the Strings 2006 talks are also not online in any shape or form (in contrast with tradition in these conferences).

    If someone here knows S T Yau, could you please bring this to his attention? I’m sure he’d do something about it.

  34. Pingback: Not Even Wrong » Blog Archive » Talks at Strings 2006 Now Available

  35. Amy Zeck says:

    I saw these math T-Shirts and had to share them with everyone:


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    :) amy

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