Department of Physics & Astronomy

Melanie Becker

Professor

Melanie Becker

Biography

String theory is one of the most beautiful and exciting areas of modern theoretical physics whose ultimate goal is to reconcile quantum mechanics with Einsteins theory of general relativity. Only through the marriage of these two theories will it ever be possible to understand fundamental questions such as the origin of our universe. This is a challenging problem, especially because for many years string theory was only able to describe perturbative physics. The situation changed in the mid 1990s when M-theory was discovered and non-perturbative effects in the string coupling constant were beginning to be understood. In 1995 M.Becker co-discovered that non-perturbative effects in string theory come from extended objects, called p-branes, that wrap supersymmetric cycles of the internal geometry. This allowed the precise description and calculation of non-perturbative effects in the string coupling constant and showed that string theory is not merely a theory of strings, but that higher dimensional extended objects (branes) play a crucial role. In 1997 M.Becker and her collaborators showed that M(atrix)-Theory can be used as a fundamental theory that describes M-theory in terms of point-like objects called D0-branes. Ever since its discovery, string theory has aimed to calculate the values of the coupling constants of the standard model of elementary particles. For many years no progress could be made because once string theory is compactified on a Calabi-Yau manifold, a large number of massless (and thus unphysical) scalars appears. This is the famous moduli space problem, which emerges because the shape and size of the internal Calabi-Yau manifold is not determined by the string. In 1996 M. Becker made a fundamental discovery in collaboration with K. Becker, which subsequently lead to the solution of the moduli space problem. They realized that Calabi-Yau manifolds are only a simplification of a more general class of internal geometries, called flux compactifications, in which additional tensor fields (which naturally emerge in string theory) are not set to zero by hand. Such flux compactifications lead to a potential for the moduli fields, and thus serve as the main candidates for realistic string theory compactifications nowadays. The heterotic string has traditionally been the theory of choice for constructing string theory models that are interesting for particle phenomenology. Even though this perspective has changed after the discovery of string dualities and other approaches have become available (intersecting brane models, F-theory GUTs, branes at singularities), it turns out that the torsional geometries or equivalently heterotic flux compactifications provide an extremely rich territory not only for particle phenomenology but also for algebraic geometry. Flux-compactifications are an active area of M.Beckers research. She is currently working in Kaluza-Klein compactifications of string theory and M-theory without truncation i.e. all fields of the theory (massless and massive) are taken into account.

Research Interests

Awards and Recognition

  • Edward Frances and Shirley B. Daniels Fellowship (Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, 2005)
  • RISE Fellowship (University of Maryland, 2004)
  • Alfred Sloan Research Fellowship (Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, 2001)