Instructor Insights

Course Overview

This page focuses on the course 8.821 String Theory and Holographic Duality as it was taught by Professor Hong Liu in Fall 2014.

During the last fifteen years, string theory has revealed a surprising and deep connection between gravity and many-body physics under the name of holographic duality. The duality brings together many previously seemingly unconnected subjects including quantum gravity/black holes, QCD at extreme conditions, exotic condensed matter systems, and quantum information in an extremely elegant yet still mysterious manner. It also opens up new powerful approaches for studying these subjects from completely different perspectives. This course brings students to the forefront of this exciting field.

Course Outcomes

Course Goals for Students

  • Understand that holographic duality is a rapidly developing field
  • Gain an introduction to holography and general aspects of duality
  • Learn about holographic renormalization group flows
  • Gain insight into many-body systems
  • Learn what questions in the area of quantum gravity are still outstanding
  • Apply understanding of holographic duality in problem solving

Possibilities for Further Study/Careers

This course prepares students to complete doctoral thesis research.

Curriculum Information


Requirements Satisfied

8.821 String Theory and Holographic Duality can be applied toward a doctoral degree in Physics.


On a variable schedule

Instructor Interview

"I found it very rewarding to introduce students to holographic duality because it’s a field that is still rapidly developing."
—Hong Liu

Below, Professor Hong Liu describes various aspects of how he taught 8.821 String Theory and Holographic Duality in Fall 2014.

I found it very rewarding to introduce students to holographic duality because it’s a field that is still rapidly developing. It was exciting to bring students to the forefront of this active research arena. I think students found it to be an enriching experience, as well.

One challenge I faced in teaching the course was organizing the materials in an effective way. I addressed this challenge by identifying the most essential concepts and techniques students would need to know in order to being doing research in this area and organized the course around those topics.

Course Team Roles

Main Instructor

  • Planned and delivered lectures
  • Responded to student questions during lectures

Teaching Assistant

  • Provided solutions to and graded students’ problem sets


The students’ grades were based on the following activities:

  • 75% Problem Sets
  • 25% Final Project

Instructor Insights on Assessment

I do not give exams in 8.821 String Theory and Holographic Duality. Rather, I strongly encourage students to ask questions during our class sessions and these questions help me gauge how well they understand the material.

Student Information


24 students

Breakdown by Year

80% Graduate Students, 20% Seniors

Breakdown by Major

Mostly Physics

Typical Student Background

Typically, students have taken classes in Quantum Field Theories and General Relativity. Many tend to be theoretically-minded.

How Student Time Was Spent

During an average week, students were expected to spend 12 hours on the course, roughly divided as follows:


Met 2 times per week for 1.5 hours per session; 27 sessions total.

Out of Class

Out of class, students completed problems sets and worked on their final projects.

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

theaters Lecture Videos
assignment_turned_in Problem Sets with Solutions
notes Lecture Notes
co_present Instructor Insights