Professor SHAHN Majid



Jan 2014  On sabbatical at the Maths Institute, Oxford

August 2013  `On Space and Time’ now out in Croation and Japanese translations

July 2013  Appear on BBC 4 telling my black-hole-in-a dustbin joke

Jan 2013  Keynote at Techfest 2013, Mumbai; SE Asia’s largest science festival

Micro CV

Educated 1st degree Cambridge including part III in theoretical physics and PhD Harvard jointly in the mathematical physics and pure mathematics departments. After a year in Swansea, spent 10 years in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, Cambridge and as a Fellow of Pembroke College. Moved to Queen Mary in 1999, where I am currently Director of Pure Mathematics. I have been an EPSRC Advanced Fellow, a Royal Society University Research Fellow and a Leverhulme Senior Research Fellow.

My Research

In very general terms I am interested in almost all areas of pure mathematics and in structural aspects of theoretical physics. I take the unusual view that Nature does not know what maths is in maths books and hence you have to first be a Pure Mathematician equipped to explore unknown mathematics before you can be a theoretical physicist (otherwise you are likely to be fishing in the dark). I am interested in applying pure mathematics to understand the true nature of physical reality and to answer the big questions like: Why is there time? Why is there quantum theory? Why is there gravity? Why is there a cosmological constant? ... explore the links and references on these web pages to get some answers as I see it, for example my Space and Time blog from 2008 (click on the image).

More technically, my research comes under the heading of quantum algebra which these days means all kinds of modern algebra, category theory, representation theory and geometry done algebraically. There is a separate page for the quantum algebras group here at Queen Mary.

On the pure mathematics side I was one of the pioneers of the modern theory of quantum groups. These are an idea of symmetry that goes beyond ordinary group theory; they have revolutionised mathematics and may yet revolutionise mathematical physics. I have numerous results in algebra and category theory related to these as well as being responsible for one of the two main classes of quantum groups known. I also pioneered braided-algebra - its algebra done by wiring up like a computer circuit board but where over and under crossings are nontrivial operations. I have many results including a canonical such object associated to any braided vector space.

On the physics side I was a pioneer of quantum spacetime and introduced the first proper model of this which is still the main and most studied. The idea here is that space and time variables do not commute- it matters in which order you measure where and when you are. Its a hypothesis that is currently being tested by a satellite in orbit on account of a key prediction of my model that the speed of light is energy-dependent and not, as in Einstein’s theory, constant. I also pioneered the idea of quantum born reciprocity as a key idea for quantum gravity - this is the idea that which is space and which is momentum should be interchangeable. One of my predictions gaining popularity is cogravity or curvature in momentum space. This is a body of work that goes back to my 1988 PhD thesis and a popular account is in my chapter of my book of collected essays On Space and Time (click on the image above to see more about this).

Bridging pure mathematics and physics, much of my work has amounted to what could be called the quantum groups approach to noncommutative differential geometry.


My last book

My Space and Time Blog