A mathematical equation written in chalk on a blackboard

The Particle Physics and Cosmology Theory group in Swansea University’s Physics Department is one of 25 UK institutions that have been awarded more than £20 million to expand and test theories of how the universe works.

UK theoretical particle physicists have a long history of global leadership, including Nobel Prize winners, and continues to lead the world in areas such as dark matter theory.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council has awarded the grants to researchers looking at five key theme areas in theoretical physics:

  • Cosmology – the theory we use to try to describe the earliest moments of the Universe and how the Universe evolved.
  • Lattice field theory – this is about testing the limits of the Standard Model by ascertaining, for example, the physical masses of particles and testing how they hold up against the Standard Model.
  • Phenomenology – the study of elementary building blocks of all matter in the Universe and the fundamental forces that operate between them.
  • Quantum field theory – a theoretical framework that combines lots of principles to explain the behaviours of subatomic particles and their interactions
  • String theory – the study of how particles interact, supposing that particles are not ‘points’ but more like one-dimensional strings

The grant will enable the group at Swansea to appoint no less than six postdoctoral researchers in the areas of research in which the group is active: String/M-theory, quantum black holes, and holography; cosmology and gravitational waves; strongly-coupled physics beyond the Standard Model; and QCD under extreme conditions, lattice field theory and machine learning. In addition, the grant will support travel, consumables and support staff time.

Head of Particle Physics Programme in STFC, Karen Clifford, said: “Theorists are crucial to the UK’s entire science base, not just to our understanding of the Universe. They play a vital role in the promotion of science, helping to inspire the next generation of researchers.

“Theoretical physicist also play a crucial role in teaching in maths and physics departments with their breadth of knowledge and ability to clearly explain complex subjects. With this funding, we hope to continue the UK’s global leadership in this area.”

Professor Gert Aarts, Principal Investigator, said: "The new grant is a step up from the previous STFC Consolidated Grant, running from 2020 to 2023, with an increase in value, from £1.3m to £1.6m, and an increase in PDRA years from seven to 13. This underlines the strength of the group across a wide range of topics in theoretical particle physics and cosmology".

Co-Head of Department, Professor Prem Kumar, said: "Theoretical physicists seek to understand the most fundamental rules governing our universe, from the underlying constituents of matter and the forces of nature to the very structure of space and time itself; from the sub-nuclear regime to black holes and the early universe. This award recognises the traditional strength of the Swansea physics theory group, the only one of its kind in Wales, and underlines the central role of curiosity driven blue skies research in modern science".

The grant will run for three years from October 2023.

The other institutions set to benefit from the three-year grant funding are:

  • University of Cambridge
  • City University of London
  • Institute of Particle Physics Phenomenology, Durham University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Glasgow          
  • Imperial College London          
  • King’s College London
  • University of Liverpool
  • University of Manchester
  • Newcastle University
  • University of Nottingham
  • University of Oxford 
  • University of Plymouth           
  • Queen Mary’s University of London  
  • University of Southampton   
  • University of Surrey  
  • University College London
  • Durham University and Newcastle University Consortium
  • University of Sheffield and Lancaster University Consortium
  • University of Sussex Consortium
  • University College London, Deppisch Consortium

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