Prof Bill Spence

Prof Bill Spence

Vice Principal for Research / Professor of Theoretical Physics
School of Physics and Astronomy
Queen Mary, University of London
327 Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS

Telephone: 020 7882 5006
Room: Queens E125a

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. Since 2004 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 Stanford's search engine or at the Los Alamos e-print archive

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 CRST/Theory Group colleagues; as PI where stated.)

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


Brief History

2015-current: Director, Life Sciences at QMUL

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

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/ founding 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.


Recent Roles

Vice-Principal (Research) 2013-current

My role as Vice Principal since January 2013 gives 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 of over £400M, and an annual research income of over £120M. I sit on the ten-member Senior Executive, meeting weekly, and am centrally involved in all major decisions on the operation of the institution. QMUL continues to grow rapidly and continued success in a highly competitive environment requires continuous innovation and investment and an institution that attracts and fosters outstanding staff. A focus on these essentials is the basic element of our five year Research Strategy ( This includes broad commitments to fostering outstanding research and innovation, and quantitative Indicators of Progress with which to measure success.

Research Excellence Framework

Our submission to the national Research Excellence Framework was made in late 2013.. The outcome was that QMUL was placed 9th amongst multi-Faculty UK universities in the 2014 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 - exceptional results that confirmed our place amongst the very top cohort of research-intensive universities in the country.

Life Sciences

In the most ambitious programme of growth in the past two decades, QMUL has committed to the establishment of a major new Life Sciences campus over the next few years, based on large scale development of land in central London at Whitechapel, exploiting the tremendous opportunities provided by the confluence of the strength of our medical and dental schools there, the new Royal London hospital - the largest new-build hospital in Europe, Queen Mary Bio-Innovation - the largest purpose-built bio-innovation space in London, a large local population with significant health needs, imminent rapid national and international transport links with the new £16bn Crossrail project, and proximity to central London and the City.

I was asked in January 2015 to take leadership of our Life Sciences initiative, with responsibility for growing research, education, doctoral training, public and patient engagement, researcher development and equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives. This has involved setting up new Life Sciences research centres in genomics, 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. Further work includes building a physical infrastructure for the initiative, securing increased investment and the establishment of new governance and management structures, masterplanning of land and building options, leadership of project working groups, and on-going work building partnerships with higher education institutions, companies, and health and local authorities. 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, and we await news of a significantly larger second bid in September 2016, with QMUL investment meanwhile growing rapidly.

Research Council appointments

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.


More recent publications


1. A. Brandhuber, E. Hughes, R. Panerai, B. Spence and G. Travaglini, The Connected Prescription for Form Factors in Twistor Space 16pp. arXiv:1608.03277 [hep-th].

2. A. Brandhuber, E. Hughes, B. Spence and G. Travaglini, One-Loop  Soft Theorems via Dual Superconformal Symmetry, 41pp. arXiv:1511.06716 [hep-th]. Journal of High Energy Physics 1603:084, 2016.

3. B. Penante, B. Spence, G. Travaglini and C. Wen, On super form factors of half-BPS operators in N=4 super Yang-Mills, QMUL-PH-14-01, 28pp. arXiv:1402.1300 [hep-th]. Journal of High Energy Physics 1404:083, 2014.

4. A. Brandhuber, B. Spence and G. Travaglini, Tree-Level Formalism, QMUL-PH-10-18, 39pp. arXiv:1103.3477 [hep-th]. Journal of Physics A 44:454002, 2011.

5. A. Brandhuber, B. Spence, G. Travaglini and G. Yang, Form Factors in N=4 Super Yang-Mills and Periodic Wilson Loops, QMUL-10-18, 25pp. arXiv: 1011.1899 [hep-th]. Journal of High Energy Physics 1101:134, 2011.

6. A. Brandhuber, B. Spence, G. Travaglini and G. Yang, A Note on Dual MHV Diagrams in N=4 SYM , QMUL-PH-10-15, 16pp. arXiv: 1010.1498 [hep-th]. Journal of High Energy Physics 1012:087, 2010.

7. A. Brandhuber, P. Heslop, P. Katsaroumpas, D. Nguyen, B. Spence, M. Spradlin and G. Travaglini, A Surprise in the Amplitude/Wilson Loop Duality, arXiv: 1004.2855 [hep-th]. Journal of High Energy Physics 1007:080, 2010.

8. P. Katsaroumpas, B. Spence, G. Travaglini, One-loop N=8 supergravity coefficients from N=4 super Yang-Mills, QMUL-PH-09-12, 39pp. arXiv: 0906.0521 [hep-th]. Journal of High Energy Physics 0908:096, 2009.

9. C. Anastasiou, A. Brandhuber, P. Heslop, V. V. Khoze, B. Spence, G. Travaglini, Two-Loop Polygon Wilson Loops in N=4 SYM, 55pp. Journal of High Energy Physics 0905:115,2009. e-Print: 0902.2245 [hep-th].

10. A. Brandhuber, P.J. Heslop, A. Nasti, B. Spence and G. Travaglini, Four-point Amplitudes in N=8 Supergravity and Wilson Loops 31pp, arXiv:0805.2763 [hep-th]. Nuclear Physics B807, 290-314, 2009.


A selection of most popular earlier papers

1. Two-Loop Polygon Wilson Loops in N=4 SYM, Charalampos Anastasiou, Andreas Brandhuber, Paul Heslop, Valentin V. Khoze, Bill Spence and Gabriele Travaglini. Journal of High Energy Physics 0905:115,2009. arXiv:hep-th/0902.2245.

2. From trees to loops and back, Andreas Brandhuber, Bill Spence and Gabriele Travaglini. Journal of High Energy Physics 0601:142,2006. arXiv:hep-th/0510253.

3. Loop Amplitudes in Pure Yang-Mills from Generalised Unitarity Andreas Brandhuber, Simon McNamara, Bill Spence, Gabriele Travaglini 35 pages, Journal of High Energy Physics 0510 (2005) 011. arXiv: hep-th/0506068.

4. A recursion relation for gravity amplitudes James Bedford, Andreas Brandhuber, Bill Spence, Gabriele Travaglini 17 pages, Nuclear Physics B721 (2005) 98-110. arXiv:hep-th/0502146.

5. Non-Supersymmetric Loop Amplitudes and MHV Vertices James Bedford, Andreas Brandhuber, Bill Spence, Gabriele Travaglini 31 pages, Nuclear Physics B712 (2005) 59-85. arXiv: hep-th/0412108.

6. A Twistor Approach to One-Loop Amplitudes in N=1 Supersymmetric Yang-Mills Theory James Bedford, Andreas Brandhuber, Bill Spence, Gabriele Travaglini 31 pages, Nuclear Physics B706 (2005) 100-126. arXiv: hep-th/0410180.

7. One-Loop Gauge Theory Amplitudes in N=4 Super Yang-Mills from MHV Vertices Andreas Brandhuber, Bill Spence, Gabriele Travaglini 35 pages, Nuclear Physics B706 (2005) 150-180. arXiv: hep-th/0407214.

8. Flux, Supersymmetry and M Theory on seven manifolds, Bobby S. Acharya, Bill J. Spence, QMW-PH-00-08 (Jul 2000) 15p. arXiv: hep-th/0007213.

9. Branes at conical singularities and holography, Bobby S. Acharya, J.M. Figueroa-O'Farrill, C.M. Hull, Bill J. Spence, Advances in Theoretical and Mathematical Physics2:1249-1286,1999. arXiv: hep-th/9808014.

10. Euclidean D-branes and higher-dimensional gauge theory, Bobby S. Acharya, J.M. Figueroa-O'Farrill, Bill J. Spence, M. O'Loughlin, Nuclear Physics B514:583-602,1998. arXiv: hep-th/9707118.

11. Higher dimensional analogues of Donaldson-Witten Theory, Bobby S. Acharya, M. O'Loughlin, Bill J. Spence, Nuclear Physics B503:657-674,1997. arXiv: hep-th/9705138.

12. The Geometry of the gauged sigma model with Wess-Zumino term, C.M. Hull, Bill J. Spence, Nuclear Physics B353:379-426,1991.

13. The gauged nonlinear sigma model with Wess-Zumino term, C.M. Hull, Bill J. Spence, Physics Letters B232:204,1989.




  • Philosophy 1:

"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]


  • Philosophy 2: 

When the going gets tough.....well, just keep going

This is not an exhaustive list and I would be happy to discuss other project possibilities.