Australian Institute of Physics

South Australian Branch


Dr. Peter Bouwknegt, University of Adelaide

Tuesday 17th February 1998 at 7:30 pm.

KERR GRANT Lecture Theatre, Physics Building,
The University of Adelaide.



For decades one of the most challenging problems in theoretical physics has been to find a consistent framework for the unification of the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism, the weak and strong nuclear force, and gravity. In particular, unifying gravity and quantum theory has proven to be a notoriously difficult problem to solve.

Spectacular advances towards such a "Theory of Everything" have been made over the past few years, rooted in the revolutionary "String Theory" approach which was developed in the late 1980s. In particular, duality symmetries relating the (usually complicated) strongly coupled regime in one theory to the (much better understood) weakly coupled regime in another theory have been established. As a consequence it was shown that all known supersymmetric String Theories are actually different manifestations of an underlying master theory, popularly called "M-theory". This understanding has allowed us to address important questions in quantum gravity, including non-perturbative issues such as the physics of black holes.

In this talk I will give a (non-technical) introduction to the main ideas behind String Theory, including the recent exciting developments mentioned above, and why they have changed our ideas about spacetime and other fundamental notions of physics.

Career summary:

After graduating from the Universities of Utrecht (M.Sc, 1985) and Amsterdam (PhD, 1988), Peter Bouwknegt has held postdoctoral positions at M.I.T. (Cambridge, U.S.A.), C.E.R.N. (Geneva, Switzerland) and U.S.C. (Los Angeles, U.S.A.) and is presently affiliated with the Department of Physics and Mathematical Physics at the University of Adelaide where he holds an ARC QEII Fellowship. His main research these days focuses on exploring mathematical structures common to such diverse areas as String Theory and Integrable Models in Statistical Mechanics.