The University of Southampton

Ambitious Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellow seeks to combine renowned physical theories

Published: 8 January 2018
Professor Tim Morris is working towards the combination of two renowned physics theories

Southampton physicist Professor Tim Morris has been awarded a prestigious national fellowship to work towards the long-awaited combination of the theories of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity.

The Royal Society Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellowship, one of just seven awarded in the UK, will allow him to devote himself to research the Wilsonian renormalisation group in quantum gravity, an area that could uncover new properties that would unify the familiar theories of quantum mechanics and gravity.

The project expands on Tim’s research focus in recent years as Head of the Southampton High Energy Physics group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and will run until September 2018.

“The 20th Century saw the discovery and application of the deeply profound and disturbing physical theories of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity, requiring us to abandon the everyday view of the world we live in,” Tim explains. “Quantum Mechanics forces us to give up on the notion that cause and effect are as apparently certain as the moving parts of a mechanical clock and implies that even objects that are very far apart have their uncertain futures intertwined. General Relativity dismisses the idea that space and time are just rigid and featureless philosophical notions, teaching us that space-time is a ‘fabric’ that stretches and contracts in the presence of masses and energy.”

Both theories have been comprehensively tested and underlie familiar modern technologies, however they remain fundamentally incompatible. This has made combining the theories of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity one of the most important problems in modern fundamental physics.

“Despite a huge amount of research over many decades, there is still no consensus on what it means to have a fully quantum mechanical space-time,” Tim says. “I’m delighted to receive this Senior Research Fellowship and believe my extensive expertise in the renormalisation group and earlier in quantum gravity, puts me in a strong position to discover whether a deeper understanding of the pair could hold the key to finally finding a successful combination of Quantum Mechanics and General Relativity. My early discoveries have uncovered novel effects linking the inhomogeneity of the universe to its overall size, and hint at a solution to the so-called cosmological constant problem. Both of these would solve profound problems with the theory of cosmology.”

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