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Professor Cliff Burgess  
Area: Subatomic Physics
Cliff Burgess
Location: ABB 324
Phone: 905-525-9140 ext 23175
Fax: (905)546-1252
  1. Research Profile
  2. Letter to Grad Students

Cliff Burgess - Interesting times for particle physics

Interesting times for particle physics


This is a very exciting time to be working on Particle Physics, since we sit at the threshold of new discoveries likely to be driven by experiments at the Large Hadron Collider.

My own wild oats were sown working in string theory, but my research interests have since taken a more phenomenological and cosmological turn. At present my interests lie at the interface between string theory and lower-energy physics, with a particular emphasis on how the discovery of branes (and the realization that we may be trapped on one) may have observable consequences in experiments and in cosmology. In particular, I am working on the implications I believe this may have for Dark Matter, Dark Energy, Inflation and for the Large Hadron Collider.

To the extent that there is a theme to my research, it would be the use of effective field theory techniques throughout high-energy physics and other fields. These techniques permit a general understand of the low-energy (or long-wavelength) behaviour of any physical system. They are particularly apt for our present situation in particle physics, where it appears that the energy scale of any unknown physics beyond the Standard Model is high compared to those that are experimentally accessible. But part of the beauty of these techniques is that they are also applicable in other areas of physics and so they permit a unified perspective towards theoretical physics as a whole.

Cliff Burgess
Department of Physics & Astronomy
McMaster University


Dear Prospective Graduate Student,

Hi there, Having a wonderful time - wish you were here!

I'm not quite sure what this kind of a letter should say, but if you are reading this you are probably thinking about graduate school and you might be wondering what it is like to do graduate studies in particle theory. So the opening line pretty much sums it up!

I am a theorist and my training is in high-energy physics, which in cartoon form is the search for the most elementary building blocks of Nature and the forces through which they interact. This search culminated about 30 years ago in the Standard Model of particle physics, which provides a really good description of all of the experiments which have been done to date (with the exception of recent observations of neutrino masses). The bad news is that this was all done back in the stone age (30 years ago), but the good news is that the Standard Model contains within itself an indication that it must fail at distances which are just below the shortest ones which can be reached by present-day experiments. This is one of the main motivations for building the Large Hadron Collider, a new accelerator facility at CERN in Geneva which hopes to find experimental evidence for what lies beyond the Standard Model.

Theorists like me are trying to identify what might be seen. An important clue in this regard comes from reconciling quantum mechanics with gravity, since this seems to point to a very particular kind of theoretical framework called string theory. In string theory the elementary building blocks turn out to be little one-dimensional objects having a length but no width. All known particles are regarded in this framework as modes of vibration of one of these strings. This picture turns out to be theoretically very restrictive, and much of my current research is aimed at seeing if this restrictiveness can be parlayed into an understanding of what might be seen once experiments begin to probe physics beyond the Standard Model.

There is lots to do, and if you are interested the best thing is to contact me (at for more up-to-date information.