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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

Professor Bill Spence


Professor of Theoretical Physics

Room Number: G. O. Jones Building, Room 607




2013-2019: Vice-Principal (Research), Queen Mary, University of London

2015-2018: Director, Life Sciences at QMUL

2009-2012: Head of Department of Physics (from 2011: School of Physics and Astronomy)

2006-2008: Deputy Head of Department of Physics

2003-2008: Head of Theory Group/first Director of the Centre for Research in String Theory

2005: Professor of Theoretical Physics

2000: Reader in Theoretical Physics

1999: Lectureship, Queen Mary, University of London

1994-1999: Five-year Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Advanced Research Fellowship, Queen Mary, University of London

1992-1994: Five-year Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship, School of Physics, University of Melbourne, Australia (moved to UK post after two years)

1991-1993: Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) Postdoctoral research associate, Imperial College London (took up QEII offer in 1992)

1987-1991: SERC Postdoctoral research associate, Queen Mary, University of London, UK.

1985-1987: SERC Postdoctoral research associate, Southampton University, UK

Academic Qualifications

1985: PhD, Department of Mathematics, Kings College, University of London. Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 studentship.

1981: B. Sc., First Class Honours, Australian National University.


Past Roles

Vice-Principal (Research) January 2013-January 2019

My role as Vice Principal gave me responsibility for all research and innovation across QMUL – an institution with a breadth of research across 20 Schools and Institutes within three large Faculties, an annual turnover at that time of over £450M, and an annual research income of over £140M.

Research Excellence Framework

I oversaw the QMUL submission to the national Research Excellence Framework  in late 2013. The outcome was that QMUL was placed 9th amongst multi-Faculty UK universities in the overall GPA tables, which included a ranking of 8th for 4* (world-leading) outputs and 5th for 3*/4* (world leading or internationally excellent) outputs.

Life Sciences

QMUL is working towards the development of a new Life Sciences campus in central London at Whitechapel. During 2015-2018 I held a leadership role in our this initiative. This included support for research centres in Genomic Health, Bioengineering, Mind in Society and Computational Biology, and seven new themes of joint clinical-academic work with Barts Health Trust, the largest in the UK. I led a successful bid to the Wellcome Trust for a new Institutional Strategic Support Fund award, matched by QMUL investment, to a total of over £1.5m, which provided early core resources for these developments. 


National appointments

2019-2022:  REF2021 Panel Member Unit of Assessment 10 Mathematics

2020-2021: REF2021 Panel Member Unit of Assessment 9 Physics (outputs)

2012-2015: STFC Particle Physics Advisory Panel: consulation with UK research community and preparation of Roadmap for PPAN/STFC Council on future UK particle physics investment of ~£110M p.a.. Preparation of UK input to the CERN Council Strategy Group for the updated European Particle Physics Strategy.

2007-2009: STFC Particle Physics Grants Panel (Theory) (Chair 2008-9). Recommendations on the distribution of Rolling Grant funding for 2008-2013 totalling £27M.

2008: STFC Particle Physics Consultation Panel, 2008. Advice to the Research Council on the ranking of experimental physics programmes with funding totalling £110M.

1990s: EPSRC Peer Review College.


Personal Homepage



"Si tu veux construire un bateau ... Ne rassemble pas des hommes pour aller chercher du bois, préparer des outils, répartir les tâches, alléger le travail… mais enseigne aux gens la nostalgie de l’infini de la mer"  [Antoine de Saint-Exupery]



Research Interests:


My research interests are in M-theory and string theory and their applications in physics and mathematics. Particular past areas of interest have been the geometry of branes in M theory, topological field theories, and manifolds of exceptional holonomy. More recently I have mainly been working on applications originally inspired by twistor string theory. This research area has unearthed powerful new approaches to quantum field theory, gravity and string theory, ranging from twistor theory formulations to novel techniques to calculate scattering amplitudes relevant to the Large Hadron Collider.

My research publications can be found using Inspire or (post 1991) the arXiv.



Examples of research funding:

Research Grants

Wellcome Trust (PI), 2015-2016, ISSF Award: Life Sciences Initiative, £1,280,000 (£640,000 from WT, matched by QMUL).

(Grants below are collaborative with CTP/CRST/Theory Group colleagues; as PI where stated.)

  1. Science and Technology Facilities Council, String Theory Gauge Theory and Duality, (2021-2025), ~£1,500,000.
  2. Marie Sklodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network grant of the European Commission "SAGEX: Scattering Amplitudes: from Geometry to Experiment”  2018-2022, 3,983,215.68. 
  3. Science and Technology Facilities Council, String Theory Gauge Theory and Duality, (2017-2020), £710,337.
  4. Science and Technology Facilities Council, String Theory Gauge Theory and Duality, (2014-2017), £726,605.
  5. Science and Technology Facilities Council, String Theory Gauge Theory and Duality, (2011-2015), £632,432.
  6. Support from the Isaac Newton Institute, Cambridge, for the workshop Recent advances in scattering amplitudes April 2-4 2012.
  7. Leverhulme Foundation, personal Research Fellowship (2009-2010), £44,975.
  8. EPSRC, STFC and Institute for Particle Physics Phenomenology (Durham), Joint grant funding for the workshop Amplitudes 2010, May 2010 Queen Mary, £13,500.
  9. Science and Technology Facilities Council, String theory, gauge theory and duality (2008-2013) (PI), £1,431,413.
  10. PPARC 2006-2010, String theory, gauge theory and gravity (PI), £249,800.
  11. PPARC SPG, 2005-2007, Gauge theory, string theory and twistor space techniques (PI), £134,010.
  12. INFN, Instituto Nazionale di Fisica Nuclear. Workshop: Advancing Collider Physics  Galileo Galilei Institute, Florence 2007, €125,000.
  13. EPSRC Workshop Grant, M Theory in the City 2007 £11,300.
  14. Engineering and Physics Sciences Research Council, Workshop, 2006, £4,700.
  15. PPARC Grant 2003-2005, M Theory, string theory and duality (PI), £157,276.
  16. EU, Framework 6, Marie Curie Training, Mobility of Researchers, €259,980.
  17. PPARC Rolling Grant, 1998-2003, £277,892.
  18. EPSRC Responsive Mode Grant 2000-2003, £131,738.
  19. PPARC Special Programme Grant, 1998-2003, £84,514.
  20. EU Framework 5, Training, Mobility of Researchers Grant, €178,000.
  21. EPSRC Standard Grant, 1998-2001, £69,838.
  22. EPSRC/PPARC Joint Standard Grant, 1995-1998, £129,624.  




My research publications can be found using Inspire or (post 1991) the arXiv. 




Project Title
Scattering amplitudes and novel approaches to field theory and string theory.


Public Engagement

Personal Homepage



New popular science book  - "Everything is Now: Revolutionary ideas from string theory". Taylor and Francis/CRC Press.

"String theory and our conceptions of reality", Culturico, 22nd March 2021.

 "Causation" National Geographic Festival of Science, Rome, 2018.

"Time is an illusion" The Guardian Science Weekly, with Lee Smolin and Julian Barbour.

"The quest for a theory of everything" The Guardian Science Weekly, with Carlo Rovelli and Silke Weinfurtner.



"UK universities’ dangerous reliance on China is being driven by marketisation", Open Democracy, 23rd October 2020.

"The Australian government is burning our children's future", Op-ed in Al-Jazeera, 14th February 2020 on climate change and the Australian bushfires of 2019/20.

"Plea to university fund to act on fossil fuels" Letter to Financial Times 3rd June 2020.

"Why is the UK's largest pension scheme still investing in fossil fuels?" article in Times Higher Education, 10th June 2020 (register for access). Text and links reproduced here.

(Opinions are those of the author. University policies may be found on the QMUL website.)


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