On water, steam, and string theory
American Journal of Physics
This is a colloquium-style review lecture for physicists and non-physicists, as part of the requirements for "Habilitation" at the university of Bern: At a pressure of 220 atm. and a temperature of 374 Celsius there is a second-order phase transition between water and steam. Understanding it requires the concept of the renormalization group. Images from computer simulations of the lattice gas model (included) are used to explain its basic ideas. It is briefly reviewed how the renormalization
... renormalization group is used to compute critical coefficients for the water-steam phase transition, in good agreement with experiment. Applications in particle physics and string theory are mentioned. The appendix contains a sample of the author's results on renormalization group flows in theories with dynamical gravity and their relation to perturbative string theory: gravity modifies critical coefficients and phase diagrams, in agreement with numerical calculations, and leads to curious phenomena such as oscillating flows and quantum mechanical flows.