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David Olive Distinguished Lectures

Professor DAVID OLIVE, CBE, FRS , FLSW (1937 - 2012) was one of the founding members of the Swansea Particle Physics Theory group in 1992, prior to which he held academic positions at Imperial College, CERN and Cambridge. His seminal contributions shaped the development of quantum field theory and string theory. His scientific career began with important work in S-matrix theory culminating with him co-authoring the definitive text on the subject titled "The Analytic S-matrix” together with Eden, Landshoff and Polkinghorne. His work on the spinning string leading to the GSO (Gliozzi-Scherk-Olive) projection played the central role in the realisation of spacetime supersymmetry in string theory.

Professor Olive, together with Peter Goddard and Adrian Kent pioneered the coset construction, one of the most important results in two dimensional conformal quantum field theories, which eventually led to ways of incorporating spacetime gauge symmetry in string theory. The deep insights on properties of monopoles due to Goddard, Nuyts and Olive, and the bold proposal of Olive and Montonen on electric-magnetic duality in non-abelian gauge theories had arguably the most far-reaching impact on the development of dualities in quantum field theories and propelled the duality revolution in string and M-theory.

For these pioneering and far-sighted contributions David was awarded the Dirac Medal of the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in 1997.

An annual series of lectures in memory of David and his work was established in 2019 under the auspices of / in collaboration with the Learned Society of Wales. David was a Founding Fellow of the Society, having been elected in 2010.

The inaugural David Olive Lecture was delivered by Prof Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. 

Past Lectures

Professor Sean Hartnoll - 2023 Lecture

Professor Sean Hartnoll

Entropy: from Heat Engines to Black Holes and Quantum Computers

Professor Sean Hartnoll, is Professor of Mathematical Physics at the Dept of Applied Mathematics & Theoretical Physics (DAMTP), Cambridge University.

About the speaker: A leading  theoretical  physicist,  his specialisation encompasses Quantum Field Theory,  Gravity and String Theory.  His research spans a number of areas of theoretical physics and most notably bridges the study of Condensed Matter systems (e.g. superconductors and Quantum Hall systems) with Black Hole physics.

Prof. Hartnoll pioneered the use of the holographic correspondence between gravity and QFTs to show how the physics of strongly interacting superconducting systems can in fact be captured  by charged higher dimensional black hole solutions, in the process unlocking a long sought path towards understanding the intractable physics behind phenomena such as high-temperature superconductivity. For these and related pioneering research contributions Sean was awarded the prestigious New Horizons prize in 2015.


The notion of entropy was invented in the aftermath of the Industrial Revolution to describe the fact that heat engines could never be perfectly efficient. The irreversible generation of entropy was later understood to occur because everyday macroscopic objects are made up of very many small molecules whose microscopic motion is so complicated that we cannot hope to harness their energy in a useful way. This idea of "inaccessible energy" underpinned Hawking and Bekenstein’s calculation of the entropy of a black hole in the 1970’s: stuff inside a black hole is unknowable to an external observer. As things fall into a black hole it grows, and this is the growth of our ignorance and of entropy. I will describe how, over the past half century, black holes have come to be understood as highly quantum mechanical steam engines. As part of this process, the physics of black holes has fed into exciting developments in the seemingly unrelated field of quantum entanglement and quantum computation.

  • Time: Thursday, March 23rd, 4:30 pm (tea/coffee/snacks from 4:00pm)
  • Venue: Faraday Lecture Theatre, Singleton Campus
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