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Institute of Advanced Study

Nature and Geometry of Time

Einstein’s theory of gravity is a classical theory and breaks down at places where spacetime curvature is huge. The incompleteness of Einstein gravity suggests that our current understanding of spacetime as a continuous manifold can only be an approximated one and should be replaced something more fundamental at the quantum level. 

The currently favoured candidate for further progress is string theory. This is much more symmetrical than a particle-based theory. It unifies all forces and matter fields in a natural way, as modes of a single string. Moreover, because gravity is naturally incorporated, it is a promising candidate for a theory of quantum gravity and it is believed that string theory is able to address fundamental questions concerning spacetime and gravity, such as the origin and structure of the classical space-time. 

20 years ago, based on considerations of the physics of black-holes, Nobel laureate Gerardus 't Hooft put forward a proposal that 4-dimensional physics is not fundamental, but should be described in terms of a 3-dimensional physical system (the hologram) residing at the boundary of the system under consideration. This proposal found a concrete realization in terms of the celebrated gravity/gauge theory correspondence of Juan Maldacena in 1997.  Since then, it has become one of the main research directions in string theory. 

This programme, drawing on established expertise from the mathematics department and physics department of at Durham, aim to address a number of fundamental issues about the nature of spacetime and the structure of quantized symmetry in string theory. 

The project has support of an IAS Fellow, Professor Robert de Mello Koch and a Department of Mathematics Grey Fellow, Dr Sanjaye Ramgoolam. Both fellows are world leading experts on the holographic principle of string theory. They will be offering talks within the IAS, the Mathematics department and the Physics department. A workshop on "Symmetry, Integrability and the fundamental nature of spacetime" is also planned, aiming to bring together leading experts in these areas from all over the world to work on some of these deep fundamental issues of theoretical high energy physics. The workshop is by invitation only, however for further information, please contact Professor Chong-Sun Chu ( or Professor Paul Mansfield (

For full details of all the events please visit the Events Listing