|Beyond the Standard Model|
Quantum gravity (QG) is the field of theoretical physics attempting to unify quantum mechanics with general relativity in a self-consistent manner, or more precisely, to formulate a self-consistent theory which reduces to ordinary quantum mechanics in the limit of weak gravity (potentials much less than c2) and which reduces to Einsteinian general relativity in the limit of large actions (action much larger than reduced Planck's constant). The theory must be able to predict the outcome of situations where both quantum effects and strong-field gravity are important (at the Planck scale, unless extra dimensional theories are correct). Motivation for quantizing gravity comes from the remarkable success of the quantum theories of the other three fundamental interactions. Although some quantum gravity theories such as string theory and other so-called theories of everything also attempt to unify gravity with the other fundamental forces, others such as loop quantum gravity make no such attempt at unification, they simply quantize the gravitational field while keeping it separate from other force fields.
Observed physical phenomena in the early 21st century can be described well by quantum mechanics or general relativity, without needing both. This can be thought of as due to an extreme separation of scales at which they are important. Quantum effects are usually important only for the "very small", that is, for objects no larger than ordinary molecules. General relativistic effects, on the other hand, show up only for the "very large" bodies such as collapsed stars. (Planets' gravitational fields, as of 2009, are well-described by linearized gravity, so strong-field effects, any effects of gravity beyond lowest nonvanishing order in φ/c2, have not been observed even in the gravitational fields of planets and main sequence stars). Classical physics seems to be adequate over an enormous range of masses of objects from about 10−23 to 1030 kg. Thus there is a want of experimental evidence relating to quantum gravity, but the "gap" spans 53 orders of magnitude.
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 theory depends on particle fields embedded in the flat space-time of special relativity. General relativity models gravity as a curvature within space-time 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 renormalization problem. In the old-fashioned 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 electrodynamics 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.
Quantum gravity can be treated as an effective field theory. Effective quantum field theories come with some high-energy 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 quantum-mechanical predictions. This same logic works just as well for the highly successful theory of low-energy pions as for quantum gravity. Indeed, the first quantum-mechanical corrections to graviton-scattering 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 Model, since it appears to be valid all the way up to its cutoff at the Planck scale. (By comparison, the Standard Model is expected to start to break down above its cutoff at the much smaller scale of around 1000 GeV.)
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 order 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.
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 relativity with regard to the uniformity of acceleration and gravity, and general relativity 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 holes, and the origin of the universe.
At present, one of the deepest problems in theoretical physics is harmonizing the theory of general relativity, which describes gravitation, and applies to large-scale structures (stars, planets, galaxies), with quantum mechanics, which describes the other three fundamental forces acting on the atomic 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 spin-2 massless particles  (called gravitons).
While there is no concrete proof of the existence of gravitons, quantized theories of matter 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 theory, superstring theory, M-theory, loop quantum gravity, 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 made its first appearance in Kaluza-Klein theory, a five-dimensional theory that combined gravitation and electromagnetism. Generally, it appears in string theory. More recently, it has appeared in the lower-dimensional many-bodied gravity problem  based on the field theoretic approach of Roman Jackiw. The impetus arose from the fact that complete analytical solutions for the metric of a covariant N-body 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 equation 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.
However, gravity is nonrenormalizable  . For a quantum field theory to be well-defined according to this understanding of the subject, it must be asymptotically free 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 electrodynamics, 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 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:
As explained below, there is a way around this problem by treating QG as an effective field theory.
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.
In an effective field theory, all but the first few of the infinite set of parameters in a non-renormalizable theory are suppressed by huge energy scales and hence can be neglected when computing low-energy effects. Thus, at least in the low-energy regime, the model is indeed a predictive quantum field theory. (A very similar situation occurs for the very similar effective field theory of low-energy 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 theory, one can actually make legitimate predictions for quantum gravity, at least for low-energy phenomena. An example is the well-known calculation of the tiny first-order quantum-mechanical correction to the classical Newtonian gravitational potential between two masses.
A fundamental lesson of general relativity is that there is no fixed spacetime background, as found in Newtonian mechanics and special relativity; 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 theory, in which the only physically relevant information is the relationship between different events in space-time.
On the other hand, quantum mechanics has depended since its inception on a fixed background (non-dynamic) structure. In the case of quantum mechanics, it is time 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 started out as a generalization of quantum field theory where instead of point particles, string-like 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 graviton, 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 theory that may exhibit a strong dependence on asymptotics (as seen, for example, in the AdS/CFT correspondence) which is a weak form of background dependence.
Topological quantum field theory provided an example of background-independent 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.
Quantum field theory on curved (non-Minkowskian) backgrounds, while not a full quantum theory of gravity, has shown many promising early results. In an analagous 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 effect, 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 spacetime for a more complete discussion.
There are two other points of tension between quantum mechanics and general relativity.
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.
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 model of elementary particle physics. However, while this leads to an acceptable effective (quantum) field theory of gravity at low energies, gravity turns out to be much more problematic at higher energies. Where, for ordinary field theories such as quantum electrodynamics, a technique known as renormalization is an integral part of deriving predictions which take into account higher-energy 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 theory, which is based on the classical concept of a point particle, with a quantum theory of one-dimensional extended objects: string theory. At the energies reached in current experiments, these strings are indistinguishable from point-like particles, but, crucially, different modes of oscillation of one and the same type of fundamental string appear as particles with different (electric and other) charges. In this way, string theory promises to be a unified description of all particles and interactions. The theory is successful in that one mode will always correspond to a graviton, 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 supersymmetry known as supergravity form part of a hypothesized eleven-dimensional model known as M-theory, which would constitute a uniquely defined and consistent theory of quantum gravity.
Another approach to quantum gravity starts with the canonical quantization procedures of quantum theory. Starting with the initial-value-formulation of general relativity (cf. the section on evolution equations, above), the result is an analogue of the Schrödinger equation: the Wheeler-deWitt equation, which some argue is ill-defined. A major break-through came with the introduction of what are now known as Ashtekar variables, which represent geometric gravity using mathematical analogues of electric and magnetic fields. The resulting candidate for a theory of quantum gravity is Loop quantum gravity, in which space is represented by a network structure called a spin network, evolving over time in discrete steps.
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: