Research Fellows Directory
Professor Jerome Gauntlett
Imperial College London
The two cornerstones of theoretical physics are our theory of gravity, Einstein's theory of General Relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics - a very special quantum field theory. While each of these theories are extraordinarily beautiful and accurate they are mathematically incompatible. String theory is a promising attempt at unifying them and is also a very rich source of ideas for pure mathematics. String theory posits that everything is made up of tiny little loops or segments of string, with the different vibrations of these strings becoming, via quantum mechanics, a different elementary particle.
One of the most interesting discoveries is that when one studies string theory on certain curved spacetimes called
anti-de-Sitter spaces, one finds that the theory is entirely equivalent to studying certain quantum field theories in flat spacetime. This correspondence is surprising both because quantum field theory in (say) four spacetime dimensions can be equivalent to quantum gravity in (say) ten spacetime dimensions and because quantum gravity on certain spacetimes is actually ordinary quantum field theory. One highlight of this correspondence is that it has provided new insights into the quantum and thermodynamic properties of black holes, a field pioneered by Stephen Hawking.
The main focus of my work over the past year has been to look for ways to use this correspondence to study strongly coupled quantum field theories that might arise in condensed matter systems. For example, I am currently exploring the mechanism that might underly high temperature superconductors, one of the most vexing outstanding issues in condensed matter theory, using black holes in ten dimensions.
Unifying General Relativity and the Standard Model into a consistent framework would comprise one of the greatest cultural achievements of all time. Furthermore, progress in such fundamental investigations have always lead to applications with enormous benefits to society.