Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Hermann Nicolai

Director emeritus
Quantum Gravity and Unified Theories
Location Potsdam
+49 331 567-7216
+49 331 567-7297

Main Focus

My work is concerned with various aspects of quantum gravity and unified theories, especially supergravity, superstring and supermembrane theories. More specifically, I am presently interested in the following topics:

Dimensionally reduced gravity and supergravity: (i) Infinite dimensional symmetries generalizing the Geroch group, especially the ones based on exceptional Lie groups which arise in the dimensional reduction of maximal supergravity. (ii) Exact quantization of such models as "midi-superspace" models of quantum gravity in the framework of the theory of integrable systems, e.g. by means of the so-called isomonodromic ansatz. Identification of observables (non-local conserved charges) and implementation of the Geroch group at the quantum level. (iii) Search for a realization of hyperbolic Kac Moody algebras, and especially E10, in gravity and supergravity (and possibly M Theory) by generalizing and extending the BKL-type description of the chaotic oscillations of the metric near a spacelike singularity. In this context, I have recently become interested in string (or M Theory) cosmology, as I believe that the chaos which occurs in all "supertheories" may invalidate many of the approximations made in standard (e.g. inflationary) cosmology.

String and superstring theory: (i) Mathematical aspects, in particular the relation between indefinite Kac Moody algebras and Borcherds algebras; affine vertex operator constructions (at arbitrary level); explicit construction and investigation of root spaces of hyperbolic Kac Moody algebras (such as E10). (ii) Higher-dimensional supersymmetric extended objects; supermembranes and supersymmetric matrix models; construction of vertex operators for the supermembrane; analysis of BPS multiplets; understanding the role of d=11 supergravity in string theory.

Maximal gauged supergravities in three dimensions:
our recent construction of maximal (N=16) gauged supergravities in three dimensions has revealed a surprising wealth of structures, which we are currently trying to explore: these theories accommodate all the exceptional groups (in various real forms), with certain supergroups (again including exceptional ones) as background isometries. These theories are not only of interest in their own right, but should play an important role in the so-called AdS/CFT correspondence, and might also become relevant for understanding certain issues in three-dimensional differential geometry.

Canonical gravity:
One of my long term interests is to find a generalization of Ashtekars variables for higher-dimensional gravity and supergravity by fusion of gravitational and non-gravitational degrees of freedom. I would also like to understand better some of the conceptual issues of quantum gravity in the framework of supergravity and string theory.

A key issue
in my opinion is the apparent incompatibility of a deSitter-type universe and all the (maximally supersymmetric) "supertheories" currently on the market (which strongly prefer Anti-deSitter) and under study as candidates for a unified theory.

Curriculum Vitae



German habilitation at Heidelberg University


PhD at Karlsruhe University

1975 Diploma in Physics, Karlsruhe University

Academic Appointments

Since 2020
Director Emeritus at Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics
(Albert Einstein Institute)
1997-2020 Director at Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics
(Albert Einstein Institute)
1988-1997 Professor (C4) of Theoretical Physics, University of Hamburg
1986-1988 Professor (C3) of Theoretical Physics, University of Karlsruhe
1979-1986 Fellow and staff member of CERN, Geneva
1978-1979 Assistant (Theoretical Physics), University of Heidelberg

Scientific awards/honours/memberships (selection)


Advanced Grant of the European Research Council (ERC)


Honorary Doctor of Technology, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, Sweden


Gay-Lussac-Humboldt Prize

Since 2011

Member of the External Advisors Committee of the Theory Unit at CERN, Switzerland


Einstein Medal 2010, awarded by the Albert Einstein Society Bern, Switzerland

Member of the International Advisory Board of the International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry, Brussels, Belgium

Member (representative of the Max Planck Society) of the Conseil d´Administration of the Institute des Hautes Etudes Scientifiques (I.H.E.S.), Bures-sur-Yvette, France

Speaker, International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Geometric Analysis, Gravitation and String Theory
Since 2006 Editor-in-Chief of the journal "General Relativity and Gravitation"
Since 2005 Member of the Governing Board of the School of Theoretical Physics, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin, Ireland
Since 2005 Honorary Professor, Leibniz Universität Hannover
Since 1999 Honorary Professor, Humboldt University Berlin
1998-2003 Editor in Chief for the IOPP Journal "Classical and Quantum Gravity"


Member of the Editorial Board of "Communications in Mathematical Physics"


Member of the Scientific Council DESY
1991 Otto Klung Prize for Physics
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