To theoretical physicist Marcel Franz, the most exciting part of the study of physics today is the Theory of Everything. It’s a beautiful concept: the idea that a single unifying theory could describe everything in the universe, from the tiniest scales of atoms and particles, to the largest scales of galaxies and black holes.
No one has it quite figured out yet, but a theory like that would describe everything in nature.
“To me, being a theoretical physicist, that’s how you learn how nature works,” says Franz, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of British Columbia and Deputy Director at the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute.
“Theory is important for our understanding of what’s behind all the experiments that are being done. There is a vibrant interplay between theory and experiment, and one cannot really usefully live without the other, I would say.”
But currently, there’s a disconnect in the theories that govern nature at different scales, and that prevents a single unified Theory of Everything.
“At the moment, we don’t really have that type of a theory,” adds Franz. “At the very small scale, quantum mechanics applies beautifully and has been tested to wonderful accuracy. At the largest scales, general theory of relativity also applies. But when these two meet, there are contradictions, and no one knows how to resolve them at the moment.”
Along the way, physicists are making observations and advancing theories that drive innovation forward.
“On the practical side, I think we are working towards bringing theory to reality,” says graduate student Anfanny Chen. “We want to benefit everyone with our knowledge. So that’s what we’re working towards, as well.”
Where exactly these lines of inquiry will lead is impossible to predict, says Franz, but very deep questions are being asked in the area of room temperature superconductivity. Currently, superconductors require ultra-low temperatures or extremely high pressures, making them impractical to use. Understanding quantum materials like these also unlocks mysteries like holographic duality that could help explain subatomic behaviour.
The more we understand nature, the more we understand what’s possible. From theory to breakthrough, exciting things are on the horizon when we continue to push the boundaries.