QuantumQuantum theory may mean:In science:*Quantum mechanics: a subset of quantum physics explaining the physical behaviours at atomic and subatomic levels*Old quantum theory under the Bohr model...
gravity (QG) is the field of
theoretical physicsTheoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena...
which attempts to develop scientific models that unify
quantum mechanicsQuantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particlelike and wavelike behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...
(describing three of the four known
fundamental interactionIn particle physics, fundamental interactions are the ways that elementary particles interact with one another...
s) with
general relativityGeneral relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
(describing the fourth, gravity). It is hoped that development of such a theory would unify into a single consistent model all fundamental interactions and to describe all known observable interactions in the universe, at both subatomic and astronomic scales.
Such theories would yield the same experimental results as ordinary quantum mechanics in conditions of weak gravity (
potential*In linguistics, the potential mood*The mathematical study of potentials is known as potential theory; it is the study of harmonic functions on manifolds...
s much less than c
^{2}) and the same results as Einsteinian general relativity in phenomena at scales much larger than individual molecules (
actionIn physics, action is an attribute of the dynamics of a physical system. It is a mathematical functional which takes the trajectory, also called path or history, of the system as its argument and has a real number as its result. Action has the dimension of energy × time, and its unit is...
much larger than reduced Planck's constant), and be able to predict the outcome of situations where both quantum effects and strongfield gravity are important (at the
Planck scaleIn particle physics and physical cosmology, the Planck scale is an energy scale around 1.22 × 1019 GeV at which quantum effects of gravity become strong...
, unless
large extra dimensionIn particle physics, models with universal extra dimensions propose that there are one or more additional dimensions beyond the three spatial dimensions and one temporal dimension that are observed...
conjectures are correct). They are sometimes described (tongue in cheek) as "
theories of everythingA theory of everything is a putative theory of theoretical physics that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena, and predicts the outcome of any experiment that could be carried out in principle....
".
Motivation for quantizing gravity comes from the remarkable success of the quantum theories of the other three
fundamental interactionIn particle physics, fundamental interactions are the ways that elementary particles interact with one another...
s, and from experimental evidence suggesting that gravity can be made to show quantum effects. Although some quantum gravity theories such as
string theoryString theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...
and other socalled
theories of everythingA theory of everything is a putative theory of theoretical physics that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena, and predicts the outcome of any experiment that could be carried out in principle....
attempt to unify gravity with the other fundamental forces, others such as
loop quantum gravityLoop quantum gravity , also known as loop gravity and quantum geometry, is a proposed quantum theory of spacetime which attempts to reconcile the theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity...
make no such attempt; they simply quantize the gravitational field while keeping it separate from the other forces.
Observed physical phenomena can be described well by
quantum mechanicsQuantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particlelike and wavelike behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...
or
general relativityGeneral relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
, without needing both. This can be thought of as due to an extreme separation of mass scales at which they are important. Quantum effects are usually important only for the "very small", that is, for objects no larger than typical
moleculeA molecule is an electrically neutral group of at least two atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their electrical charge...
s. General relativistic effects, on the other hand, show up mainly for the "very large" bodies such as collapsed
starA star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...
s. (Planets' gravitational fields, as of 2011, are welldescribed by
linearized gravityLinearized gravity is an approximation scheme in general relativity in which the nonlinear contributions from the spacetime metric are ignored, simplifying the study of many problems while still producing useful approximate results.The method:...
except for Mercury's perihelion precession; so strongfield effects—any effects of gravity beyond lowest nonvanishing order in φ/c
^{2}—have not been observed even in the gravitational fields of planets and main sequence stars). There is a lack of experimental evidence relating to quantum gravity, and classical physics adequately describes the observed effects of gravity over a range of 50
orders of magnitude of massTo help compare different orders of magnitude, the following list describes various mass levels between 10−36 kg and 1060 kg.Units of mass:...
, i.e. for masses of objects from about 10
^{−23} to 10
^{30} kg.
Overview
Much of the difficulty in meshing these theories at all energy scales comes from the different assumptions that these theories make on how the universe works.
Quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and manybody systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...
depends on particle fields embedded in the flat spacetime of
special relativitySpecial relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...
.
General relativityGeneral relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
models gravity as a curvature within
spacetimeIn physics, spacetime is any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single continuum. Spacetime is usually interpreted with space as being threedimensional and time playing the role of a fourth dimension that is of a different sort from the spatial dimensions...
that changes as a gravitational mass moves. Historically, the most obvious way of combining the two (such as treating gravity as simply another particle field) ran quickly into what is known as the
renormalizationIn quantum field theory, the statistical mechanics of fields, and the theory of selfsimilar geometric structures, renormalization is any of a collection of techniques used to treat infinities arising in calculated quantities....
problem. In the oldfashioned understanding of renormalization, gravity particles would attract each other and adding together all of the interactions results in many infinite values which cannot easily be cancelled out mathematically to yield sensible, finite results. This is in contrast with
quantum electrodynamicsQuantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...
where, while the series still do not converge, the interactions sometimes evaluate to infinite results, but those are few enough in number to be removable via renormalization.
Effective field theories
Quantum gravity can be treated as an
effective field theoryIn physics, an effective field theory is, as any effective theory, an approximate theory, that includes appropriate degrees of freedom to describe physical phenomena occurring at a chosen length scale, while ignoring substructure and degrees of freedom at shorter distances .The renormalization...
. Effective quantum field theories come with some highenergy cutoff, beyond which we do not expect that the theory provides a good description of nature. The "infinities" then become large but finite quantities proportional to this finite cutoff scale, and correspond to processes that involve very high energies near the fundamental cutoff. These quantities can then be absorbed into an infinite collection of coupling constants, and at energies well below the fundamental cutoff of the theory, to any desired precision; only a finite number of these coupling constants need to be measured in order to make legitimate quantummechanical predictions. This same logic works just as well for the highly successful theory of lowenergy
pionIn particle physics, a pion is any of three subatomic particles: , , and . Pions are the lightest mesons and they play an important role in explaining the lowenergy properties of the strong nuclear force....
s as for quantum gravity. Indeed, the first quantummechanical corrections to
gravitonIn physics, the graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitation in the framework of quantum field theory. If it exists, the graviton must be massless and must have a spin of 2...

scatteringScattering is a general physical process where some forms of radiation, such as light, sound, or moving particles, are forced to deviate from a straight trajectory by one or more localized nonuniformities in the medium through which they pass. In conventional use, this also includes deviation of...
and Newton's law of gravitation have been explicitly computed (although they are so astronomically small that we may never be able to measure them). In fact, gravity is in many ways a much better quantum field theory than the
Standard ModelThe Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...
, since it appears to be valid all the way up to its cutoff at the
Planck scaleIn particle physics and physical cosmology, the Planck scale is an energy scale around 1.22 × 1019 GeV at which quantum effects of gravity become strong...
. (By comparison, the Standard Model is expected to start to break down above its cutoff at the much smaller scale of around 1000
GeVGEV or GeV may stand for:*GeV or gigaelectronvolt, a unit of energy equal to billion electron volts*GEV or Grid Enabled Vehicle that is fully or partially powered by the electric grid, see plugin electric vehicle...
.)
While confirming that quantum mechanics and gravity are indeed consistent at reasonable energies, it is clear that near or above the fundamental cutoff of our effective quantum theory of gravity (the cutoff is generally assumed to be of the order of the Planck scale), a new model of nature will be needed. Specifically, the problem of combining quantum mechanics and gravity becomes an issue only at very high energies, and may well require a totally new kind of model.
Quantum gravity theory for the highest energy scales
The general approach to deriving a quantum gravity theory that is valid at even the highest energy scales is to assume that such a theory will be simple and elegant and, accordingly, to study symmetries and other clues offered by current theories that might suggest ways to combine them into a comprehensive, unified theory. One problem with this approach is that it is unknown whether quantum gravity will actually conform to a simple and elegant theory, as it should resolve the dual conundrums of
special relativitySpecial relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...
with regard to the uniformity of acceleration and gravity, and
general relativityGeneral relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
with regard to spacetime curvature.
Such a theory is required in order to understand problems involving the combination of very high energy and very small dimensions of space, such as the behavior of
black holeA black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...
s, and the
origin of the universeThe Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...
.
Quantum mechanics and general relativity
The graviton
At present, one of the deepest problems in theoretical physics is harmonizing the theory of
general relativityGeneral relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
, which describes gravitation, and applies to largescale structures (
starA star is a massive, luminous sphere of plasma held together by gravity. At the end of its lifetime, a star can also contain a proportion of degenerate matter. The nearest star to Earth is the Sun, which is the source of most of the energy on Earth...
s, planets, galaxies), with
quantum mechanicsQuantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particlelike and wavelike behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...
, which describes the other three fundamental forces acting on the
atomThe atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...
ic scale. This problem must be put in the proper context, however. In particular, contrary to the popular claim that quantum mechanics and general relativity are fundamentally incompatible, one can demonstrate that the structure of general relativity essentially follows inevitably from the quantum mechanics of interacting theoretical spin2 massless particles
(called
gravitonIn physics, the graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitation in the framework of quantum field theory. If it exists, the graviton must be massless and must have a spin of 2...
s).
While there is no concrete proof of the existence of gravitons, quantized theories of matter may necessitate their existence. Supporting this theory is the observation that all other fundamental forces have one or more messenger particles,
except gravity, leading researchers to believe that at least one most likely does exist; they have dubbed these hypothetical particles
gravitons. Many of the accepted notions of a unified theory of physics since the 1970s, including
string theoryString theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...
,
superstring theorySuperstring theory is an attempt to explain all of the particles and fundamental forces of nature in one theory by modelling them as vibrations of tiny supersymmetric strings...
,
MtheoryIn theoretical physics, Mtheory is an extension of string theory in which 11 dimensions are identified. Because the dimensionality exceeds that of superstring theories in 10 dimensions, proponents believe that the 11dimensional theory unites all five string theories...
,
loop quantum gravityLoop quantum gravity , also known as loop gravity and quantum geometry, is a proposed quantum theory of spacetime which attempts to reconcile the theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity...
, all assume, and to some degree depend upon, the existence of the graviton. Many researchers view the detection of the graviton as vital to validating their work.
The dilaton
The
dilatonIn particle physics, a dilaton is a hypothetical particle. It also appears in KaluzaKlein theory's compactifications of extra dimensions when the volume of the compactified dimensions vary....
made its first appearance in
Kaluza–Klein theoryIn physics, Kaluza–Klein theory is a model that seeks to unify the two fundamental forces of gravitation and electromagnetism. The theory was first published in 1921. It was proposed by the mathematician Theodor Kaluza who extended general relativity to a fivedimensional spacetime...
, a fivedimensional theory that combined
gravitationGravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...
and
electromagnetismElectromagnetism is one of the four fundamental interactions in nature. The other three are the strong interaction, the weak interaction and gravitation...
. Generally, it appears in
string theoryString theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...
. More recently, it has appeared in the lowerdimensional manybodied gravity problem
based on the field theoretic approach of
Roman JackiwRoman W. Jackiw is a theoretical physicist and Dirac Medallist. Born in Poland, Jackiw received his PhD from Cornell University in 1966 under Hans Bethe and Kenneth Wilson...
. The impetus arose from the fact that complete analytical solutions for the metric of a covariant
Nbody system have proven elusive in General Relativity. To simplify the problem, the number of dimensions was lowered to
(1+1) namely one spatial dimension and one temporal dimension. This model problem, known as
R=T theory
(as opposed to the general
G=T theory) was amenable to exact solutions in terms of a generalization of the
Lambert W function. It was also found that the field equation governing the dilaton (derived from differential geometry) was none other than the
Schrödinger equationThe Schrödinger equation was formulated in 1926 by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Used in physics , it is an equation that describes how the quantum state of a physical system changes in time....
and consequently amenable to quantization. Thus, one had a theory which combined gravity, quantization and even the electromagnetic interaction, promising ingredients of a fundamental physical theory. It is worth noting that the outcome revealed a previously unknown and already existing
natural link between general relativity and quantum mechanics. However, this theory needs to be generalized in
(2+1) or
(3+1) dimensions although, in principle, the field equations are amenable to such generalization. It is not yet clear what field equation will govern the dilaton in higher dimensions. This is further complicated by the fact that gravitons can propagate in
(3+1) dimensions and consequently that would imply gravitons and dilatons exist in the real world. Moreover, detection of the dilaton is expected to be even more elusive than the graviton. However, since this approach allows for the combination of gravitational, electromagnetic and quantum effects, their coupling could potentially lead to a means of vindicating the theory, through cosmology and perhaps even
experimentally.
Nonrenormalizability of gravity
General relativity, like
electromagnetismElectromagnetism is one of the four fundamental interactions in nature. The other three are the strong interaction, the weak interaction and gravitation...
, is a
classical field theoryA classical field theory is a physical theory that describes the study of how one or more physical fields interact with matter. The word 'classical' is used in contrast to those field theories that incorporate quantum mechanics ....
. One might expect that, as with electromagnetism, there should be a corresponding
quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and manybody systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...
.
However, gravity is nonrenormalizable. Also in one loop approximation ultraviolet divergencies cancel on mass shell. For a quantum field theory to be welldefined according to this understanding of the subject, it must be
asymptotically freeIn physics, asymptotic freedom is a property of some gauge theories that causes interactions between particles to become arbitrarily weak at energy scales that become arbitrarily large, or, equivalently, at length scales that become arbitrarily small .Asymptotic freedom is a feature of quantum...
or asymptotically safe. The theory must be characterized by a choice of
finitely many parameters, which could, in principle, be set by experiment. For example, in
quantum electrodynamicsQuantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...
, these parameters are the charge and mass of the electron, as measured at a particular energy scale.
On the other hand, in quantizing gravity, there are
infinitely many independent parameters (counterterm coefficients) needed to define the theory. For a given choice of those parameters, one could make sense of the theory, but since we can never do infinitely many experiments to fix the values of every parameter, we do not have a meaningful physical theory:
 At low energies, the logic of the renormalization group
In theoretical physics, the renormalization group refers to a mathematical apparatus that allows systematic investigation of the changes of a physical system as viewed at different distance scales...
tells us that, despite the unknown choices of these infinitely many parameters, quantum gravity will reduce to the usual Einstein theory of general relativityGeneral relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
.
 On the other hand, if we could probe very high energies where quantum effects take over, then every one of the infinitely many unknown parameters would begin to matter, and we could make no predictions at all.
As explained below, there is a way around this problem by treating QG as an
effective field theoryIn physics, an effective field theory is, as any effective theory, an approximate theory, that includes appropriate degrees of freedom to describe physical phenomena occurring at a chosen length scale, while ignoring substructure and degrees of freedom at shorter distances .The renormalization...
.
Any meaningful theory of quantum gravity that makes sense and is predictive at all energy scales must have some deep principle that reduces the infinitely many unknown parameters to a finite number that can then be measured.
 One possibility is that normal perturbation theory
Perturbation theory comprises mathematical methods that are used to find an approximate solution to a problem which cannot be solved exactly, by starting from the exact solution of a related problem...
is not a reliable guide to the renormalizability of the theory, and that there really is a UV fixed pointIn a quantum field theory, one may calculate an effectiveor running coupling constant that defines thecoupling of the theory measured at a given momentum scale.One example of such a coupling constantis the electric charge...
for gravity. Since this is a question of nonperturbative quantum field theory, it is difficult to find a reliable answer, but some people still pursue this option.
 Another possibility is that there are new symmetry principles that constrain the parameters and reduce them to a finite set. This is the route taken by string theory
String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...
, where all of the excitations of the string essentially manifest themselves as new symmetries.
QG as an effective field theory
In an
effective field theoryIn physics, an effective field theory is, as any effective theory, an approximate theory, that includes appropriate degrees of freedom to describe physical phenomena occurring at a chosen length scale, while ignoring substructure and degrees of freedom at shorter distances .The renormalization...
, all but the first few of the infinite set of parameters in a nonrenormalizable theory are suppressed by huge energy scales and hence can be neglected when computing lowenergy effects. Thus, at least in the lowenergy regime, the model is indeed a predictive quantum field theory. (A very similar situation occurs for the very similar effective field theory of lowenergy pions.) Furthermore, many theorists agree that even the Standard Model should really be regarded as an effective field theory as well, with "nonrenormalizable" interactions suppressed by large energy scales and whose effects have consequently not been observed experimentally.
Recent work has shown that by treating general relativity as an
effective field theoryIn physics, an effective field theory is, as any effective theory, an approximate theory, that includes appropriate degrees of freedom to describe physical phenomena occurring at a chosen length scale, while ignoring substructure and degrees of freedom at shorter distances .The renormalization...
, one can actually make legitimate predictions for quantum gravity, at least for lowenergy phenomena. An example is the wellknown calculation of the tiny firstorder quantummechanical correction to the classical Newtonian gravitational potential between two masses.
Spacetime background dependence
A fundamental lesson of general relativity is that there is no fixed spacetime background, as found in Newtonian mechanics and
special relativitySpecial relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...
; the spacetime geometry is dynamic. While easy to grasp in principle, this is the hardest idea to understand about general relativity, and its consequences are profound and not fully explored, even at the classical level. To a certain extent, general relativity can be seen to be a
relational theoryIn physics and philosophy, a relational theory is a framework to understand reality or a physical system in such a way that the positions and other properties of objects are only meaningful relative to other objects...
, in which the only physically relevant information is the relationship between different events in spacetime.
On the other hand, quantum mechanics has depended since its inception on a fixed background (nondynamic) structure. In the case of quantum mechanics, it is
timeTime is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....
that is given and not dynamic, just as in Newtonian classical mechanics. In relativistic quantum field theory, just as in classical field theory, Minkowski spacetime is the fixed background of the theory.
String theory
String theoryString theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...
started out as a generalization of
quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and manybody systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...
where instead of point particles, stringlike objects propagate in a fixed spacetime background. Although string theory had its origins in the study of quark confinement and not of quantum gravity, it was soon discovered that the string spectrum contains the
gravitonIn physics, the graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitation in the framework of quantum field theory. If it exists, the graviton must be massless and must have a spin of 2...
, and that "condensation" of certain vibration modes of strings is equivalent to a modification of the original background. In this sense, string perturbation theory exhibits exactly the features one would expect of a
perturbation theoryPerturbation theory comprises mathematical methods that are used to find an approximate solution to a problem which cannot be solved exactly, by starting from the exact solution of a related problem...
that may exhibit a strong dependence on asymptotics (as seen, for example, in the AdS/CFT correspondence) which is a weak form of
background dependenceBackground independence, also called universality, is the concept or assumption, fundamental to all physical sciences, that the nature of reality is consistent throughout all of space and time...
.
Background independent theories
Loop quantum gravityLoop quantum gravity , also known as loop gravity and quantum geometry, is a proposed quantum theory of spacetime which attempts to reconcile the theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity...
is the fruit of an effort to formulate a backgroundindependent quantum theory.
Topological quantum field theoryA topological quantum field theory is a quantum field theory which computes topological invariants....
provided an example of backgroundindependent quantum theory, but with no local degrees of freedom, and only finitely many degrees of freedom globally. This is inadequate to describe gravity in 3+1 dimensions which has local degrees of freedom according to general relativity. In 2+1 dimensions, however, gravity is a topological field theory, and it has been successfully quantized in several different ways, including spin networks.
Semiclassical quantum gravity
Quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and manybody systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...
on curved (nonMinkowskian) backgrounds, while not a full quantum theory of gravity, has shown many promising early results. In an analogous way to the development of quantum electrodynamics in the early part of the 20th century (when physicists considered quantum mechanics in classical electromagnetic fields), the consideration of quantum field theory on a curved background has led to predictions such as black hole radiation.
Phenomena such as the
Unruh effectThe Unruh effect , was first described by Stephen Fulling in 1973, Paul Davies in 1975 and Bill Unruh in 1976. It is the prediction that an accelerating observer will observe blackbody radiation where an inertial observer would observe none...
, in which particles exist in certain accelerating frames but not in stationary ones, do not pose any difficulty when considered on a curved background (the Unruh effect occurs even in flat Minkowskian backgrounds). The vacuum state is the state with least energy (and may or may not contain particles).
See
Quantum field theory in curved spacetimeQuantum field theory in curved spacetime is an extension of standard, Minkowskispace quantum field theory to curved spacetime. A general prediction of this theory is that particles can be created by time dependent gravitational fields , or by time independent gravitational fields that contain...
for a more complete discussion.
Points of tension
There are other points of tension between quantum mechanics and general relativity.
 First, classical general relativity breaks down at singularities, and quantum mechanics becomes inconsistent with general relativity in the neighborhood of singularities (however, no one is certain that classical general relativity applies near singularities in the first place).
 Second, it is not clear how to determine the gravitational field of a particle, since under the Heisenberg uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics its location and velocity cannot be known with certainty. The resolution of these points may come from a better understanding of general relativity.
 Third, there is the Problem of Time in quantum gravity. Time has a different meaning in quantum mechanics and general relativity and hence there are subtle issues to resolve when trying to formulate a theory which combines the two.
Candidate theories
There are a number of proposed quantum gravity theories. Currently, there is still no complete and consistent quantum theory of gravity, and the candidate models still need to overcome major formal and conceptual problems. They also face the common problem that, as yet, there is no way to put quantum gravity predictions to experimental tests, although there is hope for this to change as future data from cosmological observations and particle physics experiments becomes available.
String theory
One suggested starting point is ordinary quantum field theories which, after all, are successful in describing the other three basic fundamental forces in the context of the
standard modelThe Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...
of elementary particle physics. However, while this leads to an acceptable
effective (quantum) field theoryIn physics, an effective field theory is, as any effective theory, an approximate theory, that includes appropriate degrees of freedom to describe physical phenomena occurring at a chosen length scale, while ignoring substructure and degrees of freedom at shorter distances .The renormalization...
of gravity at low energies, gravity turns out to be much more problematic at higher energies. Where, for ordinary field theories such as
quantum electrodynamicsQuantum electrodynamics is the relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved...
, a technique known as
renormalizationIn quantum field theory, the statistical mechanics of fields, and the theory of selfsimilar geometric structures, renormalization is any of a collection of techniques used to treat infinities arising in calculated quantities....
is an integral part of deriving predictions which take into account higherenergy contributions, gravity turns out to be nonrenormalizable: at high energies, applying the recipes of ordinary quantum field theory yields models that are devoid of all predictive power.
One attempt to overcome these limitations is to replace ordinary
quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and manybody systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...
, which is based on the classical concept of a
point particleA point particle is an idealization of particles heavily used in physics. Its defining feature is that it lacks spatial extension: being zerodimensional, it does not take up space...
, with a quantum theory of onedimensional extended objects:
string theoryString theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...
. At the energies reached in current experiments, these strings are indistinguishable from pointlike particles, but, crucially, different
modeA normal mode of an oscillating system is a pattern of motion in which all parts of the system move sinusoidally with the same frequency and with a fixed phase relation. The frequencies of the normal modes of a system are known as its natural frequencies or resonant frequencies...
s of oscillation of one and the same type of fundamental string appear as particles with different (electric and other)
chargeIn physics, a charge may refer to one of many different quantities, such as the electric charge in electromagnetism or the color charge in quantum chromodynamics. Charges are associated with conserved quantum numbers.Formal definition:...
s. In this way, string theory promises to be a
unified descriptionA theory of everything is a putative theory of theoretical physics that fully explains and links together all known physical phenomena, and predicts the outcome of any experiment that could be carried out in principle....
of all particles and interactions. The theory is successful in that one mode will always correspond to a
gravitonIn physics, the graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that mediates the force of gravitation in the framework of quantum field theory. If it exists, the graviton must be massless and must have a spin of 2...
, the messenger particle of gravity; however, the price to pay are unusual features such as six extra dimensions of space in addition to the usual three for space and one for time.
In what is called the second superstring revolution, it was conjectured that both string theory and a unification of general relativity and
supersymmetryIn particle physics, supersymmetry is a symmetry that relates elementary particles of one spin to other particles that differ by half a unit of spin and are known as superpartners...
known as
supergravityIn theoretical physics, supergravity is a field theory that combines the principles of supersymmetry and general relativity. Together, these imply that, in supergravity, the supersymmetry is a local symmetry...
form part of a hypothesized elevendimensional model known as
MtheoryIn theoretical physics, Mtheory is an extension of string theory in which 11 dimensions are identified. Because the dimensionality exceeds that of superstring theories in 10 dimensions, proponents believe that the 11dimensional theory unites all five string theories...
, which would constitute a uniquely defined and consistent theory of quantum gravity. As presently understood, however, string theory admits a very large number (10
^{500} by some estimates) of consistent vacua, comprising the socalled "string landscape". Sorting through this large family of solutions remains one of the major challenges.
Loop quantum gravity
Another approach to quantum gravity starts with the
canonical quantizationIn physics, canonical quantization is a procedure for quantizing a classical theory while attempting to preserve the formal structure of the classical theory, to the extent possible. Historically, this was Werner Heisenberg's route to obtaining quantum mechanics...
procedures of quantum theory. Starting with the initialvalueformulation of general relativity (cf. the section on evolution equations, above), the result is an analogue of the
Schrödinger equationThe Schrödinger equation was formulated in 1926 by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Used in physics , it is an equation that describes how the quantum state of a physical system changes in time....
: the Wheeler–DeWitt equation, which some argue is illdefined. A major breakthrough came with the introduction of what are now known as
Ashtekar variablesIn theoretical physics, Ashtekar variables represent an unusual way to rewrite the metric on the threedimensional spatial slices in terms of a SU gauge field and its complementary variable...
, which represent geometric gravity using mathematical analogues of
electricIn physics, an electric field surrounds electrically charged particles and timevarying magnetic fields. The electric field depicts the force exerted on other electrically charged objects by the electrically charged particle the field is surrounding...
and
magnetic fieldA magnetic field is a mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude ; as such it is a vector field.Technically, a magnetic field is a pseudo vector;...
s. The resulting candidate for a theory of quantum gravity is
Loop quantum gravityLoop quantum gravity , also known as loop gravity and quantum geometry, is a proposed quantum theory of spacetime which attempts to reconcile the theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity...
, in which space is represented by a network structure called a
spin networkIn physics, a spin network is a type of diagram which can be used to represent states and interactions between particles and fields in quantum mechanics. From a mathematical perspective, the diagrams are a concise way to represent multilinear functions and functions between representations of...
, evolving over time in discrete steps.
Other approaches
There are a number of other approaches to quantum gravity. The approaches differ depending on which features of general relativity and quantum theory are accepted unchanged, and which features are modified. Examples include:
 Acoustic metric
In mathematical physics, a metric describes the arrangement of relative distances within a surface or volume, usually measured by signals passing through the region – essentially describing the intrinsic geometry of the region. An acoustic metric will describe the signalcarrying properties...
and other analog models of gravity
 Asymptotic safety
 Causal Dynamical Triangulation
 Causal sets
 Group field theory
Group field theory is a theory of quantum gravity. It is closely related to background independent quantum gravity approaches such as loop quantum gravity and spin foam and causal dynamical triangulation....
 MacDowell–Mansouri action
 Noncommutative geometry
Noncommutative geometry is a branch of mathematics concerned with geometric approach to noncommutative algebras, and with construction of spaces which are locally presented by noncommutative algebras of functions...
.
 Pathintegral
The path integral formulation of quantum mechanics is a description of quantum theory which generalizes the action principle of classical mechanics...
based models of quantum cosmologyIn theoretical physics, quantum cosmology is a field attempting to study the effect of quantum mechanics on the formation of the universe, or its early evolution, especially just after the Big Bang...
 Regge calculus
In general relativity, Regge calculus is a formalism for producing simplicial approximations of spacetimes that are solutions to the Einstein field equation. The calculus was introduced by the Italian theoretician Tullio Regge in the early 1960s....
 Stringnets giving rise to gapless helicity ±2 excitations with no other gapless excitations
 Superfluid vacuum theory a.k.a. theory of BEC vacuum
 Supergravity
In theoretical physics, supergravity is a field theory that combines the principles of supersymmetry and general relativity. Together, these imply that, in supergravity, the supersymmetry is a local symmetry...
 Twistor models
WeinbergWitten theorem
In
quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and manybody systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...
, the
WeinbergWitten theorem places some constraints on theories of
composite gravityIn theoretical physics, composite gravity refers to models that attempted to derive general relativity in a framework where the graviton is constructed as a composite bound state of more elementary particles, usually fermions.A theorem by Steven Weinberg and Edward Witten shows that this is not...
/emergent gravity. However, recent developments attempt to show that if locality is only approximate and the holographic principle is correct, the WeinbergWitten theorem would not be valid.
See also
 Penrose interpretation
The Penrose interpretation is a prediction of Sir Roger Penrose about the relationship between quantum mechanics and general relativity. Penrose proposes that a quantum state remains in superposition until the difference of spacetime curvature attains a significant level...
 Centauro event
A Centauro event is a kind of anomalous event observed in cosmicray detectors since 1972. They are so named because their shape resembles that of a centaur: i.e., highly asymmetric....
 Hawking radiation
Hawking radiation is a thermal radiation with a black body spectrum predicted to be emitted by black holes due to quantum effects. It is named after the physicist Stephen Hawking, who provided a theoretical argument for its existence in 1974, and sometimes also after the physicist Jacob Bekenstein...
 Mtheory
In theoretical physics, Mtheory is an extension of string theory in which 11 dimensions are identified. Because the dimensionality exceeds that of superstring theories in 10 dimensions, proponents believe that the 11dimensional theory unites all five string theories...
 Quantum field theory in curved spacetime
Quantum field theory in curved spacetime is an extension of standard, Minkowskispace quantum field theory to curved spacetime. A general prediction of this theory is that particles can be created by time dependent gravitational fields , or by time independent gravitational fields that contain...
 Semiclassical gravity
Semiclassical gravity is the approximation to the theory of quantum gravity in which one treats matter fields as being quantum and the gravitational field as being classical....
 List of quantum gravity researchers
 Abraham–Lorentz force
 Invariance mechanics
In physics, invariance mechanics, in its simplest form, is the rewriting of the laws of quantum field theory in terms of invariant quantities only. For example, the positions of a set of particles in a particular coordinate system is not invariant under translations of the system...
 Black hole electron
In physics, there is a speculative notion that if there were a black hole with the same mass and charge as an electron, it would share many of the properties of the electron including the magnetic moment and Compton wavelength. This idea is substantiated within a series of papers published by...
 De Sitter relativity
 Doubly special relativity
 Orders of magnitude (length)
 Planck scale
In particle physics and physical cosmology, the Planck scale is an energy scale around 1.22 × 1019 GeV at which quantum effects of gravity become strong...
 Planck units
In physics, Planck units are physical units of measurement defined exclusively in terms of five universal physical constants listed below, in such a manner that these five physical constants take on the numerical value of 1 when expressed in terms of these units. Planck units elegantly simplify...
 Fock–Lorentz symmetry
 Planck epoch
In physical cosmology, the Planck epoch , named after Max Planck, is the earliest period of time in the history of the universe, from zero to approximately 10−43 seconds , during which, it is believed, quantum effects of gravity were significant...
 Hořava–Lifshitz gravity
 Event symmetry
The term event symmetry refers to invariance principles that have been used in some discrete approaches to quantum gravity where the diffeomorphism invariance of general relativity can be extended to a covariance under any permutation of spacetime events....
 Quantum realm
Quantum realm is a term of art in physics referring to scales where quantum mechanical effects become important . Typically, this means distances of 100 nanometers or less. Not coincidentally, this is the same scale as nanotechnology....
 Macrocosm and microcosm
Macrocosm and microcosm is an ancient Greek NeoPlatonic schema of seeing the same patterns reproduced in all levels of the cosmos, from the largest scale all the way down to the smallest scale...
Further reading
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