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New physics research to deepen understanding of the universe

22 June 2011 Southampton, University of

Physicists at the University of Southampton are beginning a new research project which aims to improve our understanding of the universe and the material within it.

They also hope that their work will enable better mathematical predictions in systems as diverse as collisions at the Large Hadron Collider, to the development of room-temperature superconductors which could provide super-efficient power for electronic circuits.

The five-year programme – entitled Holographic Methods for Strongly Coupled Systems (HoloGrav) – is a collaboration between physicists in 13 EU countries including the University of Southampton, CERN, and Ecole Normale Supérieure in France. The teams of scientists will use their world-leading expertise in gauge/gravity duality to explore novel strongly coupled materials we currently do not understand, both in applications to particle and condensed matter physics.

The original "gauge/gravity duality" theory proposed in 1997 by Juan Maldacena triggered a major advance in theoretical physics by suggesting that a gauge theory of the type that describes the strong nuclear force, and a string theory, which includes gravity, were in fact descriptions of the same physics.

According to Nick Evans, Professor of Theoretical High Energy Physics at the University of Southampton, the implications of gauge/gravity duality to quantum theories are far reaching, and this new research may enable physicists to explore important questions in black hole physics as well as larger questions of whether a gauge theory dual is the best description of quantum gravity in nature.

"We are starting to understand that quantum gravity is linked to other forces," said Professor Evans. "We also want to understand quantum chromodynamics - the theoretical explanation of particles in the nuclei of atoms. At the moment we don't fully understand these materials. But a better understanding could be crucial to our knowledge of the universe and its evolution and could also result in us being able to make better mathematical predictions."

As well as addressing these questions about the nature of matter in the universe, the Holograv programme will provide a strong training programme in these areas for Europe's graduate student community. The project has just received £451,000 from the European Science Foundation (ESF) and convenes its first meeting on 29 June.

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