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How can quantum gravity help explain the origin of the universe? Two of the great theories of modern physics are the standard model, which uses quantum mechanics to describe the subatomic particles and the forces they obey, and general relativity, the theory of gravity. Physicists have long hoped that merging the two into a "theory of everything" -- quantum gravity -- would yield a deeper understanding of the universe, including how it spontaneously popped into existence with the Big Bang. The leading candidate for this merger is superstring theory, or M theory, as the latest, souped-up version is called (with the M standing for "magic," "mystery," or "mother of all theories").