Physics Diary

Update: My Dissertation in Non-perturbative String Theory – Thinking about Emergent Geometry

The week has come where I need to refine and perfect my dissertation topic. There are a number of constraints around my dissertation this year, and, as my professor has been teaching me, there is also a degree of necessary pragmatism to which I must heed.

Over the course of the last year, especially since my academic acceleration from an undergraduate degree to an MRes, I have spent most of my time reading as much pure theory as I can at the frontier. After a year of reading what I would estimate to be 100s of research papers from all different areas of string / M – theory, as well as across mathematical physics more generally, I have been piecing together as much of the ‘total picture’ as possible. Along the way I also developed several distractions, covered quite a bit of the Swampland, studied the Braneworld formalism, and also started to get a taste of things like noncommutative geometry. All-encompassing, is perhaps one description of how I’ve spent my time in the last 12 months or so.

For me, I often need to start with the endgame and then work from there; so after cramming so much pure theory, learning about what others at the frontier of string / M-theory are thinking, what directions we might take, and what I might be able to do moving forward, I decided that my own research direction must start with nonperturbative theory. It is what I find most challenging and where, currently, I would like to focus my PhD and extended research over the next years. It is also a channel that allows me to drive ever closer to the foundations of string theory and numerous relevant pertinent questions.

So the good news is that, in the sea of frontier physics and with endlessly interesting possible research topics, I have managed to constrain my focus. This is a major success, especially as my tendency is to want to study and write about everything and anything.

And so this year, for my MRes, my main focus is to significantly advance my studies in nonperturbative string theory (and string geometry). The list of possible research projects within this context remains vast. But to constrain my focus further, I have been moving toward and narrowing in on a project in the area of emergent geometry.

One motivation is an idea I find quite tantalising: namely, in quantum gravity, spacetime geometry is an emergent phenomenon. There are many reasons why we think that, given the mounting evidence in string theory, space and time are actually emergent phenomena. I will reserve a separate article for a detailed explanation. The fact is that string theory challenges us to think of geometry in new ways. The implications of the theory alters how we may approach the question of a generalised geometry, which extends beyond the picture we see for instance in General Relativity (GR).

In working on a project that considers the concept of emergent geometry, one of a number of exciting features is that it would also entail working in gauge / gravity duality. The gauge theory I would be working with are matrix models, which means I would get to learn matrix theory which is something I desperately want to study this academic year. An example of possible research activity would be to review and then experiment with constructing geometric probes using strings and branes, studying the various affects on the local field theory. Another example would be to experiment with holographic matrix models as a means to probe the emergence of geometry, which, in this case, would come from matrix coordinates.

Having said all of that, my primary research question has not yet been set, as this is something that I will be thinking about and discussing in the next week, prior to meeting my professor.

I look forward to writing more about these topics in time.

*Image: Watercube by Marina Lazareva motivated by Scottish mathematical biologist Sir D’arcy Thompson and his famous publication ‘Growth and Form’.

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