M-Theory, Cosmology and Quantum Field Theory

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Dept of Physics


Our STFC research programme investigates the fundamental physics that describes matter, interactions and spacetime, focusing on the interrelated essential ideas of M-theory, quantum field theory and cosmology.

M-theory, which subsumes string theory and supergravity theory, is our central approach to unifying Einstein's theory of General Relativity with the Standard Model of particle physics. One of the most remarkable features of M-theory is that it incorporates dual descriptions of non-perturbative Yang-Mills theories in terms of strings and branes, leading to profound connections between black holes and quantum field theory and also to new insights into strong coupling phenomena such as quark confinement. These connections will continue to be explored in a number of different ways, including using supersymmetry, novel geometric constructions, exactly integrable quantum field theory models and theories with massless higher-spin excitations. An ultimate goal is to determine the fundamental degrees of freedom of M-theory which would have profound implications for particle physics phenomenology. Using both analytical and numerical techniques we will construct and study black-hole solutions with novel properties that have important potential applications to both the quark-gluon plasma and poorly understood systems in condensed matter such as high-temperature superconductors, exotic metals and insulators.

Cosmology continues to be a highly vibrant area of study driven by a wealth of new data, in particular the recent ground-breaking discovery of gravitational waves. Key clues to the structure and the origin of the universe are to be found in the details of the cosmic microwave background. This will provide one focus of our activities both through analysing data and by studying the cosmological implications of the Higgs field and extensions of the Standard Model of particle physics in inflationary scenarios. A central question we will address is what information can be extracted from new gravity waves measures, in particular how this constrains models of gravity and dark energy. We will look to characterise modified theories of gravity, for instance where the graviton has a mass, and study their cosmological features, and more generally study how to extract imprints of quantum gravity, such as fundamental discreteness of spacetime, on cosmological data. We also continue to develop novel, global statistical tools that draw on many different experiments in order to extract the strongest possible constraints on models.

Planned Impact

The research proposal is aimed at understanding matter, space and time and the origin of the universe at the most fundamental level. Although past experience shows that fundamental research can often translate in technical advances and hence economic impact, the timescale and path is almost impossible to predict. However, we can be sure that the current proposal will have an immediate societal impact through public engagement. This is possible because the fundamental, cutting-edge nature of the research inspires and attracts people, because we have outstanding track-records in public engagement, and because the planned pathways to impact are designed to exploit these opportunities. The direct beneficiaries are, specifically, individual members of the public who enjoy and are stimulated by acquiring new knowledge about science and, more broadly, society as a whole, including policy makers, through building the widest possible base of support for science. We aim to motivate young people, including underrepresented groups such as women, to study science, to ensure we have brilliant young scientists entering the field in the UK. Explaining our research and its significance also deepens our understanding of our work and allows us to reflect on its direction. In the struggle to communicate to the public the concepts that lie at the heart of theoretical research, in seeking new ways to frame our results and situate them in the fabric of human intellectual history, we ourselves can arrive at new insights.

A second concrete impact, and concomitant group of beneficiaries, is the training of highly skilled individuals: the PDRAs. The young researchers who will be trained typically begin their careers as excellent undergraduate performers who are motivated to answer the most fundamental `Big Questions' that our research addresses. The training that they receive as they participate in the research means that they emerge with the highest degree of technical expertise, experience of collaboration in a competitive environment, as well as the ability to direct their own research, and in addition significant skills in in public engagement. These are qualities that are vital to their future careers, be they in theoretical physics or modern business and industry.


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