Waiting for the Revolution
In the early 1970s, David J. Gross exposed the hidden structure of the atomic nucleus. He helped to reinvent string theory in the 1980s. In 2004, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. And today he struggles mightily to describe the basic forces of nature at the Planck scale (billions of times smaller than a proton), where, string theorists hope, the equations of gravity and quantum mechanics mesh.
Gross, H. David Politzer and Frank Wilczek were awarded the Nobel for discovering asymptotic freedom, more colloquially known as the strong force that binds the components of the atomic nucleus, the protons and neutrons. Forty years ago, their counterintuitive calculations plugged an important gap in the Standard Model of physics, which describes the 61 known elementary particles. This theoretical work revitalized the nearly moribund quantum field theory and gave birth to QCD (quantum chromodynamics), the theory of the strong interactions.