Cliff Burgess
Cliff Burgess
ABB 324

Interesting times for particle physics

Cliff Burgess 640x192This 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.

Black Holes and Quantum Information, Dark Energy and Dark Matter, Early-Universe Cosmology, Effective Field Theories, Quantum Hall Systems and ADS/CFT Duality


I have taught a number of undergraduate courses over the years while at McGill University, though my main offerings have been

  • Introductory Physics (for 1st year)
  • Mathematical Physics (with lecture notes)
  • Introduction to Quantum Mechanics
  • Planets, Stars & Galaxies

The courses I have been teaching most recently are offered at McMaster University. Until recently my main course was

This is an introductory course on Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, aimed at upper-year physics undergraduates. Topics covered include an introduction to differential geometry, special relativity as geometry, gravity in the solar system, black holes, gravitational lensing and cosmology.

At present I am teaching

This is an introductory course on subatomic physics, aimed at upper-year physics undergraduates. Topics covered include an introduction to nuclear physics, subatomic particles, scattering and decays, relativistic quantum field theory and the Standard Model.

This is an introductory course on quantum field theory, aimed at upper-year physics undergraduates. Topics covered include an introduction to creation and annihilation operators (how to do quantum mechanics when interactions possibly change the number of particles), coherent states and classical fields, Bose-Einstein condensation and spontaneous symmetry breaking, quantizing the electromagnetic field, merging relativity and quantum mechanics (spin-statistics and CPT theorems, crossing symmetry).

I also sometimes teach

This is an zero-credit course that meets once a week to discuss selected topics from the 1st Year physics curriculum to take them a bit further and make connections with wider physics principles. I am also open to suggestion if there are other science topics of broad interest to the class.


The graduate courses I teach vary from year to year, and are aimed at students in high energy particle physics. These courses are usually taught at Perimeter Institute so that students from other universities (and online, using PIRSA) can also attend.

Among the courses I have recently given are:

  • Introduction to the Standard Model (which uses a great textbook on the Standard Model),
  • Introduction to Effective Field Theories
  • Introduction to Cosmology (with lecture notes)
  • Quantum Field Theory 2

Quantum Field Theory 2 is my most recent graduate course, aimed at students who have already had a first exposure to quantum field theory.


I am occasionally invited to give a set of 3-5 lectures on a variety of (usually graduate-level) topics elsewhere. Here are some recent lectures of this type I’ve given.

  • Effective Field Theory in Cosmology, 4-hour lecture series presented to: Les Houches Summer School on Effective Field Theories, Les Houches, France, July 2017
  • Explorations in Particle Physics, 6-hour lecture series presented to: Perimeter Scholars International, Perimeter Institute, April 2017
  • Explorations in Particle Astrophysics, 15-hour lecture series presented to: Perimeter Scholars International, Perimeter Institute, April 2016
  • Beyond the Standard Model, 5-hour lecture series presented to: XVIII Swieca School of Physics, Campos do Jordao, Brazil, January 2015
  • The Cosmological Constant Problem, 3-hour lecture series presented to: Les Houches Summer School Post-Planck Cosmology, Les Houches, France, July 2013
  • Effective Field Theory and Cosmology, 3-hour lecture series presented to: Essential Cosmology for the Next Generation (Cosmology on the Beach), Cancun, Mexico, January 2012
  • Inflation, Dark Matter and Dark Energy, 4-hour lecture series presented to: Nordic Winter School on Cosmology and Particle Physics, Gausdal, Norway, January 2011
  • Inflation and Fundamental Physics, 2-hour lecture series presented to: UniverseNET School on Cosmology, Lecce, Italy, September 2010
  • Introduction to the Standard Model, 4-hour lecture series presented to: TRIUMF Summer Institute, Vancouver, BC, July 2009
  • Physics Beyond the Standard Model, 3-hour lecture series presented to Universite de Paris IX/Bielefeld International Graduate Course on Physics Beyond the Standard Model, Bielefeld, Germany, September, 2008; and to Benasque School on Flavor Physics, Benasque, Spain, August, 2008
  • Effective Field Theory, 5-hour lecture series presented to British Universities Graduate Summer School (BUSSTEPP), York, England, August, 2007; and 6-hour lecture series presented to British Universities Graduate Summer School (BUSSTEPP), Edinburgh, Scotland, Sept., 2006
  • Cosmic Inflation, 4.5-hour lecture series presented to: Cargèse School on Cosmology and Particle Physics Beyond the Standard Models, Cargèse, France, August 2007;
  • String Cosmology, 4-hour lecture series presented to: CERN RTN Graduate School, Geneva, Switzerland, January, 2007; and 4-hour lecture series presented to: Central European Joint Program of Doctoral Studies in Theoretical Physics (Particle Physics, Gravity and Cosmology), Dubrovnik, Croatia, August, 2006; and 3-hour lecture series presented to: International Graduate School on Cosmology, Universite de Paris XI/Bielefeld, Paris, France, March, 2006

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 cburgess@physics.mcmaster.ca) for more up-to-date information.


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