Department of Mathematics
 Search | Help | Login | pdf version | printable version

Math @ Duke



Ronen Plesser, Professor of Physics and Mathematics and Professor in the Program of Education

Ronen Plesser

My research is in String Theory, the most ambitious attempt yet at a comprehensive theory of the fundamental structure of the universe. In some (rather imprecise) sense, string theory replaces the particles that form the fundamental building blocks for conventional theories (the fields, or wave phenomena, we observe are obtained starting from particles when we apply the principles of quantum mechanics) with objects that are not point-like but extended in one dimension – strings. At present, the theory is not precisely formulated, as we still seek the conceptual and technical tools needed. The structures we do have in hand suggest that, when formulated precisely, the theory will provide a consistent framework encompassing the two greatest achievements of twentieth century theoretical physics: Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which describes gravitational forces objects in terms of deformations of the geometry of spacetime; and quantum mechanics, a model of fundamental physics in which microscopic objects exhibit the properties of particles under some circumstances and those of waves under others. Both of these theories have been tested with extraordinary precision and yield predictions that agree with our observations of the physical universe. Relativistic effects are manifest at the largest scales in the universe, in the interactions of stars, galaxies, etc. The differences between a quantum mechanical description and a classical nineteenth century description of these objects are so small they can be neglected. Quantum effects dominate at the smallest scales – atoms and their constituents. In this realm, the effects of gravitation can be completely neglected. And yet, under extreme conditions of density, such as may obtain in the final instant of the evaporation of a black hole, both kinds of effects are important. A universal theory of physics thus requires a consistent quantum theory of gravity. Thus far, string theory is the most promising candidate for producing such a theory. Investigations of this theory have already yielded rich insights, and continue to produce more.

My own research centers on the crucial role played in the theory by geometric structures. There is an obvious role for geometry in a theory that incorporates gravitation, which as discussed above is tantamount to the geometry of spacetime. Related to this are several other, less obvious, geometric structures that play an important role in determining the physics of the theory. Indeed, advances in mathematics and in the physics of string theory have often been closely linked. An example of how the two fields have interacted in a surprising way is the ongoing story of mirror symmetry.

Contact Info:
Office Location:  245
Office Phone:  (919) 660-9668
Email Address: send me a message
Web Page:

Teaching (Fall 2017):

    Physics 128, MF 03:05 PM-04:20 PM
Teaching (Spring 2018):

    LSRC A156, F 03:05 PM-04:20 PM; LSRC A156, M 03:05 PM-04:20 PM

Ph.D.Harvard University1991
M.A.Harvard University1988
BSTel Aviv University1981

Theoretical particle physics and string theory
Research Interests: String Theory and Quantum Field Theory

Current Ph.D. Students   (Former Students)

    Postdocs Mentored

    Recent Publications   (More Publications)

    1. Jockers, H; Katz, S; Morrison, DR; Plesser, MR, SU(N) Transitions in M-Theory on Calabi–Yau Fourfolds and Background Fluxes, Communications in Mathematical Physics, vol. 351 no. 2 (April, 2017), pp. 837-871 [doi]
    2. Aspinwall, PS; Plesser, MR, General mirror pairs for gauged linear sigma models, The Journal of High Energy Physics, vol. 2015 no. 11 (November, 2015) [doi]
    3. Morrison, DR; Ronen Plesser, M, Special Lagrangian torus fibrations of complete intersection Calabi–Yau manifolds: A geometric conjecture, Nuclear Physics B, vol. 898 (September, 2015), pp. 751-770, ISSN 0550-3213 [doi]
    4. Bertolini, M; Plesser, MR, Worldsheet instantons and (0,2) linear models, The Journal of High Energy Physics, vol. 2015 no. 8 (August, Preprint, 2015) [4541], [doi]  [abs]
    5. Bertolini, M; Melnikov, IV; Plesser, MR, Accidents in (0,2) Landau-Ginzburg theories, The Journal of High Energy Physics, vol. 2014 no. 12 (December, Preprint, 2014) [4266], [doi]  [abs]
    Recent Grant Support

    • A Regional Conference Series in Mathematical String Theory, National Science Foundation, PHY-1316774, 2013/08-2019/08.      
    • Moduli Spaces of String Vacua with Four Supersymmetries, National Science Foundation, PHY 1521053, 2015/09-2018/08.      
    • Moduli Spaces of String Vacua with Four Supersymmetries, National Science Foundation, PHY 1521053, 2015/09-2018/08.      
    • Integrative Middle School STEM Teacher Preparation: A Collaborative Capacity Building Project at Duke University, National Science Foundation, 2014/09-2017/08.      
    • Preparing Highly Qualified Middle Grades STEM Teachers: A Collaborative Capacity Building Project at Duke University, NSF, 2014/09-2016/08.      
    • Geometry and Physics of String Compactifications, National Science Foundation, PHY-1217109, 2012/08-2016/07.      
    • A Regional Conference Series in Mathematical String Theory, NSF, 2013/07-2016/06.      
    • Geometry and Physics of String Compactifications, NSF, 2012/07-2015/06.      

    ph: 919.660.2800
    fax: 919.660.2821

    Mathematics Department
    Duke University, Box 90320
    Durham, NC 27708-0320