Indeed, this seems to be ongoing work.
The 5-year old story says there is a new ansatz which comes from condensed matter physics, modeling empty space as a "string net" subject to excitations. Note: Similar approaches where attempted even longer ago, additionally one may note that the whole approach which led to the idea of a Higgs field is actually a port from condensed matter physics math into fundamental physics math, postulating that empty space is some kind of superconductor for something.
If the spins that form our space organize into a string-net liquid, then the collective motions of strings give rise to light waves and the ends of strings give rise to electrons. The next challenge is to find an organization of spins that can give rise to gravitational wave.
Other theories that describe light and electrons also exist, of course; Wen and Levin realize that the burden of proof is on them. It may not be far off. Their theory also describes possible new states with emergent light-like and electron-like excitations in some condensed matter systems, and Young Lee's group at MIT might have found such a system.
So the MIT guys currently seem to be refining their math and are looking at herbertsmithite in a closer way. Which gives the El Reg article.
This also ties in nicely with the SciAm article above in which String Theory math is applied to large sets of entangled particles by postulating a string structure "going sideways" with particles at the string ends. This is unlike the case of the usual "particles are strings" idea, which transforms the path of a particle in spacetime into a tube. Whether there is more to this than mathematical approaches clicking in place is another question.
Maybe Thanu Padmanabhan has some ideas on how to use ideas from thermodynamic to fit gravity into this.