In theoretical physics, M-theory is an extension of string theory in which 11 dimensions are identified. Because the dimensionality exceeds the dimensionality of superstring theories in 10 dimensions, it is believed that the 11-dimensional theory unites all five string theories (and supersedes them). Though a full description of the theory is not yet known, the low-entropy dynamics are known to be supergravity interacting with 2- and 5-dimensional membranes.
This idea is the unique supersymmetric theory in eleven dimensions, with its low-entropy matter content and interactions fully determined, and can be obtained as the strong coupling limit of type IIA string theory because a new dimension of space emerges as the coupling constant increases.
Drawing on the work of a number of string theorists (including Ashoke Sen, Chris Hull, Paul Townsend, Michael Duff and John Schwarz), Edward Witten of the Institute for Advanced Study suggested its existence at a conference at USC in 1995, and used M-theory to explain a number of previously observed dualities, sparking a flurry of new research in string theory called the second superstring revolution.
In early 1990s, it was shown that the various superstring theories were related by dualities, which allow physicists to relate the description of an object in one super string theory to the description of a different object in another super string theory. These relationships imply that each of the super string theories is a different aspect of a single underlying theory, proposed by Witten, and named “M-theory”.
Originally the letter M in M-theory was taken from membrane, a construct designed to generalize the strings of string theory. However, as Witten was more skeptical about membranes than his colleagues, he opted for “M-theory” rather than “Membrane theory“. Witten has since stated that the interpretation of the M can be a matter of taste for the user of the name.
M-theory (and string theory) has been criticized for lacking predictive power or being untestable. Further work continues to find mathematical constructs that join various surrounding theories. New formulations are proposed to join many theoretic situations (usually by exploiting string theoretic dualities. Witten has suggested that a general formulation of M-theory will probably require the development of new mathematical language. However, the tangible success of M-theory can be questioned, given its current incompleteness and limited predictive power, even after so many years of intense research.