The plan (for the moment) is that together with co-supervisors Dr. Yallup and Dr. Durakovic, I will leave in this section resources (mostly as links, but perhaps with some downloadable content) which are mentioned during our meetings.

Theoretician's toolbox

There is some computational infrastructure that you will want to establish, for all the projects and to varying degrees. The sooner you can get this over with, the better!


  1. I would strongly advise you to write your \(\LaTeX\) report, and your notes, using the REVTeX 4.2e class. What is it? In their own words: "REVTeX 4.2 is a set of macro packages designed to be used with LaTeX2e and is well-suited for preparing manuscripts for submission to the journals of the American Physical Society (APS) and American Institute of Physics (AIP)". Generally speaking, APS journals are the superior category of journals, though there are some other good ones associated with other continents. Try to keep to double-column format wherever you can.
  2. If you wish to compile locally, I would recommend using TeX Live and latexmk from within terminal. If you prefer a browser, use Overleaf, which is (sadly) becoming more and more popular. As students, you may be able to get Overleaf Professional features by linking with your CRSID.


  1. As your project develops (computational projects, or those who are compiling \(\LaTeX\) locally), I would strongly recommend you to use Git and Github to version-control and share it, so that I/we can look at your work. For those not acquainted with the terminal, git can be an awkward learning curve, but the rewards are life-changing. There are many great introductions to git on the internet.


  1. You can get a license e.g. here. All Cambridge University students are entitled to a license, if you are encountering any bureaucratic difficulties in this regard, email me.


  1. Maple is another body of proprietary computer algebra software. There is no University-wide license for this, but if you really (really) want to try it then email me and we can discuss.


  1. For abstract (and component) tensor and spinor calculus (actually for most physically motivated representations of the Lorentz group), use xAct.
  2. For help with xAct, email me, or try the xAct Group. The latter is actually very responsive, so don't be afraid to try!
  3. There are some great resources and example code for xAct in this Git repository.

Nested Sampling (NS)

  1. Nested Sampling is a numerical integration algorithm whose development has been driven in large part by our group here in Cambridge. Whilst it is a general numerical technique it has become synonymous with calculation of Bayesian evidences. An excellent introduction into what evidences are and why they are interesting can be found in the incomparable textbook on inference by David Mackay Two specific chapters to read are 28 - the "why" behind model comparison, and 29 - the "how" numerical evaluation of Bayesian inference takes place. This book predates Nested Sampling, but it is hard to look past Mackay when it comes to introducing the lineage of the technique.
  2. The canonical reference for NS is still the original paper by John Skilling available at Whilst this remains a source of inspiration for the NS developer, a more modern community review article has been compiled recently that is perhaps a better starting point arXiv:2205.15570. This review does a good job of establishing the provenance of the technique in fundamental physics, the pointers towards NS as a partition function calculator is perhaps of most interest to readers of this page.Nested sampling the himmelblau function
  3. Our group has contributed heavily to the technical landscape of NS. MultiNest arXiv:0809.3437 is a pillar of the NS community, often synonymous with the technique itself -- sampling from contracting ellipsoids is pleasingly intuitively geometric -- and for many years was the most complete and popular implementation of NS. PolyChord is the groups current focus in terms of development, being a "next generation" NS algorithm, specifically aiming to push NS to higher dimensional applications than previously considered. The repository of PolyChord git:PolyChordLite is a good starting point with example code to get a hands on sense. NS is nothing without an analysis built on top of it, and the python package anesthetic git:anesthetic is what we use to drive a lot of our work, again the code repository contains some useful starting worked examples.

Modified Newtonian Dynamics (MoND)

  1. Introduction to the specific new relativistic MoND (RMoND) addressed by this project arXiv:2007.00082.
  2. Quite an old study of the spherically-symmetric field equations of a Tensor-Vector-Scalar (TeVeS) theory arXiv:0502122.
  3. McVittie by Kaloper (black holes embedded in FRW spacetimes) arXiv:1003.4777.
  4. Reduced Lagrangia in highly symmetric spacetimes, and dangers of abbreviating the path integral, are discussed in arXiv:1811.10291 and references therein.

Perturbative quantum gravity

  1. Luca Buoninfante's thesis Ghost and singularity free theories of gravity, also 'Xived at arXiv:1610.08744, provides a great pedagogical introduction to the connection between a QFT propagator and the resulting "particle spectrum", and explains why this line of thinking requires a systematic approach (spin-projection operators, SPOs) when the classical field theory contains some d.o.f-rich bosonic fields (commuting tensors with lots of components, as we have in electromagnetism's vector gauge potential \(A^\mu\)). It is slightly unnecessary to use these techniques for QED, but it becomes helpful to use them for gravity whose gauge fields \(h_{\mu\nu}\equiv g_{\mu\nu}-\eta_{\mu\nu}\) produces waves with only two polarisations (not ten). The modified gravity theories in this project have many more than ten d.o.f in their tensor components, so the concept of a "particle spectrum" becomes mandatory.
  2. A fairly old (and well-known) treatment of the particle spectrum of torsion gravity arXiv:1411.5613. This is mostly for context, since it covers a broader category of theories to those addressed in the project (so-called parity-violating). However, the underlying method used by Karananas is the same as the one which we will be using.
  3. Initial application by our group of the SPO method to torsionful theories in arXiv:1812.02675. In principle, the whole methodology we are using for these projects is contained within this paper, but be careful because it is extremely terse!
  4. A follow-up paper to arXiv:1812.02675 is given in arXiv:1910.14197. This paper provides some extra insights into the information which the propagator can provide about renormalisability. For the moment, it should be only of contextual interest: in gravity we take unitarity to have primacy, and renormalisability (which we do not see at first glance in GR) is a bonus.
  5. A final paper in the Yun-Cherng Lin series is found at arXiv:2005.02228. This paper extends beyond torsion gravity into a related set of models comprising Weyl gauge theory (WGT). There is no accommodation in the PSALTer code for WGT, so extensions to this area within the project will be quite speculative.
  6. For more information about WGT and its extensions, see arXiv:1510.06699. This paper is really more for background reading, but it serves as a cross-check on our conventions for the gauge-theoretic formulation of gravity.
  7. Supervision notes on the geometric interpretation of the tetrad.
  8. Speaking of our conventions, we mostly adhere to the setup in Blagojevic's excellent book. For the most part, you won't need anything from beyond the first three chapters. The critical level of understanding, so as to be able to connect with the QFT literature, is as follows. You should be able to expand some Lagrangian \(\mathcal{L}=b\mathcal{L}(A^{ij}_{\ \ \ \mu},h^i_{\ \mu})\), constructed from the Riemann-Cartan and torsion tensors and various other ingredients (such as derivatives), to quadratic order around the vacuum. You should also be satisfied that the whole is invariant under translational and Lorentz-rotational gauge transformations.
  9. A very useful resource which will combine much of the above literature is Yun-Cherng's Ph.D. thesis. The PSALTer code uses very different methods to those described in this implementation (which is a complicated search over root systems), but the background physics will be very useful.
  10. The PSALTer code itself, when a student-friendly version is finished later this term, will be available for download here. For the moment, you can in which I've performed the particle spectrum analysis.
  11. Not that it has to do with particle spectra, but someone was interested in accelerated expansion. For those of us that think it has something to do with a cosmological constant, and who are wondering why the value of such a constant is so small, check out the review by Jerome Martin at arXiv:1205.3365.

Non-perturbative quantum gravity

  1. Tim Budd's excellent online course on Monte Carlo techniques should serve as an introduction to how lattice (Q)FTs are implemented on computers. Not all of the applications are to quantum systems, so be careful! However, there is coverage of criticality which is vital in lattice QFT, and even Euclidean dynamical triangulations (which are intended to be quantum), with some quick-start python implementations of the latter.
  2. Random triangulation of the two-sphere: a statistically representative quantum gravity microstate in two Euclidean dimensions.
  3. The Dynamical Triangulations course, also by Tim Budd, for PITP, gives a far more in-depth introduction to random geometries. For those working with triangulation models, I can strongly recommend watching both of the lectures. There are also some C++ and Mathematica resources from this course: be careful however, since the C++ implementation has some "black box" matter coupled to it, while the Mathematica contains some depreciated syntax. I've fixed the notebook, and if you then you should be able to make some simple embedding visualisations such as that displayed here.
  4. A punchy "white paper" by Burda, Jurkiewicz and Krzywicki, which sets out a plan for putting fermions on random lattices, can be found at arXiv:9907013.
  5. A paper by the same authors, with much more detail, can be found at arXiv:9905015.
  6. A more in-depth discussion of how to implement fermions and Ising systems coupled to two dimensional gravity can be found in arXiv:0110063.
  7. Massless Majorana-Wilson fermions coupled to quantum gravity in two Euclidean dimensions are studied in arXiv:0107015. I'm happy that this is a standard formulation of EDT.
  8. Massless Majorana-Wilson fermions coupled to quantum gravity in two Lorentzian dimensions are studied in arXiv:0306033. I've not confirmed that this is standard CDT.
  9. A summary of the above two papers can also be found at this Acta. Phys. Polon. B article.
  10. Something to note about the above implementations (and introductions to conformal field theories) is the restriction to fermions which are symmetric under charge conjugation (Majorana spinors). Majorana spinors will be a pain to work with when including gauge symmetries, so can we use Dirac spinors? To investigate this just at the level of holomorphic/antiholomorphic field equations, see below.
  11. Supervision notes on Dirac Lagrangia in complexified coordinates.
  12. A different (and far more recent) branch of the literature in which CDT and some motivated internal gauge symmetries are considered in two dimensions arXiv:2010.15714.
  13. The thorough introduction to CFTs from Champs, Cordes et Phénomènes Critiques can be found at arXiv:9108028.
  14. Tong's lectures on statistical field theory can be found here.
  15. Why restrict to \(N\)-spheres? CDT is implemented on a \(2+1\) torus in arXiv:1305.4702.

Cosmological perturbation theory

  1. Gauge-theoretic formulation of the torsion condensate arXiv:2003.02690. This is mostly for context, but with fair winds and following seas we might be able to begin to explore perturbation theory directly in the gauge field framework.
  2. Scalar-tensor formulation of torsionful gauge theories, which works at the background level (but how well does it work at the level of perturbations?) arXiv:2006.03581.
  3. Pedagogical introduction to cosmological perturbation theory found in James Fergusson's Part III Cosmology notes.
  4. A slightly more in-depth exploration of perturbation theory, with discussion of extra d.o.f, can be found in the "Helsinki" notes.
  5. A fairly up-to-date review of scalar-tensor theories, for contextual interest, can be found at arXiv:1901.08690. Note that this review covers most of the usual cases of scalar fields which may/may not augment Einstein's theory: the scalar-tensor models in these projects have a unique motivation which is not covered here! That said, Israel Quiros (who is a very interesting researcher) has also worked with torsionful models in the past.
  6. A more principled method for extracting extra scalar d.o.f from torsionful theories, with a cosmological/inflationary application, is presented in arXiv:1904.03545. The main difference here is the guarantee that no extra non-scalar torsion d.o.f are present, which could show up in the perturbation theory.


Below is some logistical information about the structure of research projects, including relevant deadlines. Much of this is transplanted from the various departmental websites (which you should check regularly for updates), but in places where I have my own deadlines/ammendments I will indicate in bold, underlined and italic script.

Quasi-regular Friday meetings

Research group meetings for (confirmed) new members, and members who joined as summer students in recent months, will be held in slots from 09:00-14:30 on Fridays (with later slots for those who really can't make the morning). These will be in-person by default, but a Zoom room will be open during that period. Book these below.

Note that whilst both astrophysicists and physicists are expected to focus more on projects during Lent term, the degree to which I can expand my calendar to match will be very limited. Therefore, I'd strongly advise that we make the most of meetings during Michaelmas.

M.Sci. and M.Ast. students for Part III Astrophysics (applications CLOSED)

Michaelmas Term

An electronic PDF copy interim progress report, length no more than 1,000 words, bearing the signature(s) of the main supervisor(s) and second supervisor, must be uploaded to the Part III/MASt Astrophysics Moodle site no later than 12:00 Friday 2nd December 2022 (the last day of Michaelmas Full Term). The report should be produced with LaTeX, or an equivalent text-processing package and may contain material that can be incorporated in the final project report. The interim report must indicate the progress made so far and show preliminary results. It should also give a clear indication of the project aims and a detailed plan of how these aims will be achieved. This is particularly important where the results of the project depend on data that has yet to be analysed. There is no need for the interim report to reiterate the material given in the Project Handbook. The interim reports do not constitute part of the formal assessment but are regarded as an essential part of the monitoring procedure. The Course Coordinator will assess these reports and provide feedback to students and supervisors.

Lent Term

Practice oral presentations, consisting of a 20-minute talk followed by up to 10 minutes of questions, to an audience of Part III Astrophysics students, Project Supervisors and the Project Coordinator will be given on the last Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Lent Term (14th, 15th, 16th and 17th March 2023). A final timetable for the presentations will be provided by e-mail during the previous week. This practice presentation is not formally assessed but offers the opportunity to become familiar with the format of the presentation, to be assessed by the Part III Examiners in the Easter Term. Students are encouraged to attend the practice talks of their peers which will help strengthen their presentation techniques.

Easter Term

A draft of the final project report, generated with LaTeX or an equivalent text-processing package, should be handed to the Project Supervisor no later than Monday 24th April 2023. The last Supervision, to discuss the draft report, should take place no later than Monday 1st May 2023.

I will not be available on Monday 1st, so our final supervisions will be our usual meeting slots on Friday 28th April.

An electronic PDF copy of the final project report must be uploaded to the Part III/MASt Astrophysics Moodle site no later than 12:00 BST Monday 8th May 2023. Late submissions are very strongly discouraged because you will be left with insufficient time to properly revise for the written examinations. In circumstances in which it is unavoidable you must seek permission in advance and then any late submissions must be submitted via your college Tutor with an accompanying letter of explanation from the Tutor. Your University Examination Number must NOT appear anywhere in the report or on the cover sheet.

Register interest

The projects which were advertised can be found in the IoA project booklet.

The IoA has provided the results of their student allocation algorithm. All projects are now allocated.

M.Sci. and MASt students for Part III Physics (applications CLOSED)

To see a list of abstracts on offer, go to the Teaching Information System.

In response to popular demand, one new project was added, to be co-supervised by Dr. Amel Durakovic.

Progress reports

Students will be asked to complete two progress reports. At the end of the Michaelmas Term, you must submit an Initial Report (one copy; between 4 and 6 A4 pages in length). This Initial Report should describe the project in your own words, putting the physics into context (including references to the relevant literature) and describing the goals of the project; it must also include a project plan. This report should be electronically signed by both you and your supervisor to indicate his or her agreement with the plan and should be uploaded onto the TIS by Friday 2 December 2022 by the student. A copy of the Initial Report will be retained by the Undergraduate Office and forwarded to the assessor in Easter Term – failure to submit an Initial Report will result in the loss of 5% of the available project marks.

The second report is a simple “tick box” form, which can be downloaded from the TIS during week three of the Lent term. This will invite you to report any problems with your project, and to confirm that a presentation has been scheduled. The form should be uploaded to the TIS by Wednesday 8 February 2023. The second report will not form part of any assessment but will allow any problems to be identified by Professor Hirst well before the time the project has to be handed in.

It is very important that students bring any unforeseen delays or other problems with their projects to Professor Hirst’s attention at the earliest possible opportunity. The earlier such problems are addressed, the more chance there is of taking suitable remedial action.

The project write-up

The project should usually be presented in the style of a paper published in a scientific journal. The main text (excluding appendices and abstract) should be concise (20–30 pages, 5000 words maximum (excluding references)). The text should describe and explain the main features of the project, the methods used, results, discussion and conclusions, and should be properly referenced. Detailed measurement records, calculations, programs, etc. should be included as appendices. In addition, there must be an abstract of at most 500 words.

This final write-up is an important part of the project and must be the student's own work. A lecture on Project report writing will be given on Tuesday 24 January 2023 at 4:00pm in the Small Lecture Theatre. Once the majority of the research work has been completed, the student and supervisor should discuss the general structure and content of the report before writing is started. Thereafter, the student must write the final report without advice on the report from the supervisor, although discussion of the scientific results is allowed during this period. A set of handy tips and information is given in the booklet entitled Keeping Laboratory Notes and Writing Formal Reports.

Submission of the project

The deadline for submission of the project is:

4:00 pm on the third Monday of Easter Full Term (15 May 2023)

A request for a delay in the hand-in date of your project report due to illness must go through your Director of Studies and then be agreed by the Applications Committee. Treat this deadline like you would an exam date.

The project report should be submitted as a pdf file to the TIS before the submission deadline. A link to your on-line notebook should also be added to the first page of your report before uploading the project.

To preserve anonymity when your project is looked at by the Part III examiners, your name must not appear on the project report itself. You should ensure that your candidate number appears on the first page of your project, together with the title of the project and your supervisor’s name.

Your project report should contain the following statement on the first page of the project: Except where specific reference is made to the work of others, this work is original and has not been already submitted either wholly or in part to satisfy any degree requirement at this or any other university.

Register interest

To apply to a project, please email me a copy of your CV, with some indication of your undergraduate exam record, and book a slot to discuss from the appointments below (you don't need to be "invited" to meet, just turn up!):

Initial allocations were made on Friday 14th and Sunday 16th October. Final allocations were made on Tuesday 18th October. All projects are now allocated.