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!