M-theory: strings, duality and branes
String theory is an attempt to combine all of the known physical forces into a single unified framework. A powerful new type of duality symmetry has recently been discovered in string theory which has led to important breakthroughs. What were previously considered to be five distinct string theories are now known to be different aspects of an underlying structure called M-theory. In addition to strings, extended objects of higher dimension or 'branes', play a key role. We review these developments and discuss the impact that they are having on quantum field theory and the quantum properties of black holes.