To celebrate the contributions made by our newly promoted academic colleagues, we invited some of them to tell us a little bit about themselves.

In this instalment of the series, we caught up with Professor Christian Saemann, Mathematics Department, School of Mathematical and Computer Science.

String theory has not yet fulfilled its initial promise of a complete and unified description of elementary physics yet it already provides a coherent and powerful framework of ideas with many applications in physics and mathematics. It once was dubbed a piece of 21st-century physics that had fallen by accident into the 20th century but even today, many crucial questions remain open. To answer these, we require 21st-century mathematics, in particular the meta-mathematical language of (higher) category theory.

This language is currently one of Professor Christian Saemann's favourite tools and he uses it to expose the structures underlying string theory. In particular, he works on the construction of a theory of particular higher-dimensional objects, which was previously believed to be impossible. He also uses higher category theory to explore the algebraic structures behind perturbative quantum field theories, which may also have direct applications in particle physics. Christian enjoys promoting his research area by teaching and collaborating with students and by organising and contributing to international workshops and conferences. His research has been supported by a number of grants from EPSRC, STFC and the Leverhulme Trust.

Besides his research, Christian is also very happy to teach general mathematical topics at an undergraduate level. Teaching is the art of assisting discovery, and he continuously looks for ways to be a better assistant. For example, he introduced and promoted the use of online testing software in his school, which encourages students to learn continuously throughout the semester and provides them with immediate feedback on their progress.

Christian also played a crucial role in setting up the Maxwell Institute Graduate School, the joint graduate school of mathematical sciences between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. Its PhD students benefit from a much broader provision of training opportunities and a new study experience within a larger community of fellow PhD students.