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Buffalo physicist Dejan Stojkovic and colleagues proposed in 2010....that the early universe -- which exploded from a single point and was very, very small at first -- was one-dimensional (like a straight line) before expanding to include two dimensions (like a plane) and then three (like the world in which we live today).

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The core idea is that the dimensionality of space depends on the size of the space we're observing, with smaller spaces associated with fewer dimensions. That means that a fourth dimension will open up -- if it hasn't already -- as the universe continues to expand.

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If Stojkovic and his colleagues are right, they will be helping to address fundamental problems with the standard model of particle physics, including the following:

*The incompatibility between quantum mechanics and general relativity*. Quantum mechanics and general relativity are mathematical frameworks that describe the physics of the universe. Quantum mechanics is good at describing the universe at very small scales, while relativity is good at describing the universe at large scales. Currently, the two theories are considered incompatible; but if the universe, at its smallest levels, had fewer dimensions, mathematical discrepancies between the two frameworks would disappear.

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"What we're proposing here is a shift in paradigm," Stojkovic said. "Physicists have struggled with the same problems for 10, 20, 30 years, and straight-forward extensions of extensions of the existing ideas are unlikely to solve them."