Science: Hanging the Universe on Strings

A bizarre new theory may unite the forces of nature

Like members of a family, the four basic forces of nature are all distinct personalities, with their separate quirks, abilities and housekeeping chores. Electromagnetism makes it possible for elevators to rise, light bulbs to glow and lightning to snake across the sky. Gravity holds chairs to the floor and planets in their orbital paths. The strong force binds together the protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus. The weak force causes subatomic particles to shoot out of the nuclei of atoms during the radioactive decay of such unstable elements as uranium.

Despite these apparent differences, physicists have long believed that a...

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