Theoretical Physics

Branes and M-theory

The quest for a unified theory of gravity and the other forces of nature has led to superstring theory in the past few decades. Pioneering work was done in formulating superstring theory in this department in the 1980's, and a number of different theories involving open and/or closed superstrings were shown at that time to be consistent.

Since then, in the 1990's, new and profound connections between different string theories, called "dualities", were discovered; again, this was prompted by crucial work done at Queen Mary. The culmination of these developments was the conjecture and exploration of a new and currently mysterious underlying theory called "M-theory". The "M" stands for mystery, or magical or membrane, and in this theory, higher dimensional extended objects called "branes" play a crucial role.

The exhibit displays the low-energy limit of M-theory, which is an eleven dimensional supergravity theory. The equations describing brane solutions of this theory are shown, together with a picture of a brane. The exploration of the properties and consequences of the brane picture of fundamental forces continues to absorb thousands of the world's most talented intellects in theoretical physics.

Queen Mary is proud of its continuing international reputation in this field, which explores the fundamental structure of space, time and matter.

Underlying this is an image from the Michelangelo (1475-1564) frescoes of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The panel used here is the Separation of Light from Darkness painted in 1511. Although the first in terms of Biblical order it was actually one of the last to be painted of the nine panels illustrating scenes from the Genesis.

The panel measures 1.8 by 2.6 metres and the whole ceiling 13 by 41 metres with more than 300 figures depicted.

"Without having seen the Sistine Chapel one can form no appreciable idea of what one man is capable of achieving"
- Goethe