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Elegant Universe, The: Einstein's Dream

Program Overview

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NOVA introduces string theory and Albert Einstein's dream of unifying the forces that underlie all phenomena in the physical universe.

The program:

  • reviews the quest for unification, the search for a single theory that describes all the laws in the known universe.

  • introduces string theory as a candidate for a unified theory and summarizes the theory's main idea—that all matter and forces are made of tiny strands of energy that vibrate in different patterns.

  • chronicles how, in 1665, Isaac Newton integrated the laws governing the heavens and Earth under the theory of gravity.

  • details Einstein's discovery that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light and reveals how that finding conflicted with Newton's laws that showed that gravity acts instantaneously across any distance.

  • explains how Einstein resolved the conflict with Newton's ideas by showing in his general theory of relativity that gravity travels at the speed of light.

  • describes how electricity and magnetism were unified in the mid-1800s into a single theory of electromagnetism and illustrates how electromagnetism works and why it is hundreds of billions of times stronger than gravity.

  • chronicles Einstein's quest to unite electromagnetism with gravity.

  • relates the rise of subatomic physics in the 1920s and reviews the development of the radical theory of quantum mechanics and the uncertainty that rules the quantum world.

  • conveys the discovery in the 1930s of two additional forces—the strong force and the weak force—and the eventual grouping of electromagnetism and the strong and weak forces under the umbrella of quantum mechanics.

  • discusses the challenge of unifying the force of gravity with the forces described by quantum mechanics and expresses the need for a unified theory to describe phenomena in the universe, such as the depths of a black hole, which is both enormously massive and incredibly tiny.

  • concludes with the idea that while string theory could unify general relativity and quantum mechanics, there is currently no way of experimentally confirming its predictions.

For additional background information see:
The Science of Superstrings
Glossary

Teacher's Guide
Elegant Universe, The: Einstein's Dream
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