Endowed professorship for a researcher at the Albert Einstein Institute

String theory is established at Humboldt University

July 07, 2005

Dr. Jan Plefka, scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, is the recipient of a Lichtenberg Professorship from the Volkswagen Foundation. The professorship for string theory research is to be established at Humboldt University in Berlin.

Plefka is very pleased with the award and will continue to cooperate closely with the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI). "Especially within the framework of the special research area ‘Space-time-matter’, there are many links for joint research between the Departments of AEI and mathematical groups at Humboldt University and at Free University in Berlin. The focus of my research work at Humboldt University will be investigating the fundamental structure of string theory and its relation to gauge field theories."

String theory is the most promising candidate today for a unified description of gravity at the microscopic level. Strings replace the concept of point-shaped elementary particles with one-dimensional objects that have an inconceivably small extent, which lies below the length scales that up to now have been accessible in particle accelerators. However, this degree of freedom becomes important in situations involving strong space-time curvature, such as occur in the interior of black holes or near the Big Bang. In the context of his Lichtenberg professorship, Jan Plefka will seek to better understand the behaviour of strings in such extreme situations and also in the case of strong self-couplings.

A central aspect of this theoretical work will be the relationship of strings to gauge field theories. Gauge field theories precisely describe the non-gravitational interactions of elementary particles. This is a fascinating undertaking because gauge fields and strings actually describe identical physical objects, but use two alternative mathematical languages to do so.

The Volkswagen Foundation supports junior scientists in a particularly sustainable way through the Lichtenberg Professorships. In contrast to other funding options, which usually only continue for a few years, in the case of this professorship the university is committed to provide financing for an additional five years thereafter.

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