In homotopy theory, topological spaces (i.e. shapes) are regarded as being the same if we can deform continuously from one to the other. Algebraic varieties are spaces defined by polynomial equations, often over the complex numbers; studying their homotopy theory means trying to tell which topological spaces can be deformed continuously to get algebraic varieties, or when a continuous map between algebraic varieties can be continuously deformed to a map defined by polynomials.If the polynomials defining a variety are rational numbers (i.e. fractions), this automatically gives the complex variety a group of symmetries, called the Galois group. Although these symmetries are not continuous (i.e. nearby points can be sent far apart), they preserve something called the etale topology. This is an abstract concept which looks somewhat unnatural, butbehaves well enough to preserve many of the topological features of the variety. Part of my project will involve investigating how the Galois group interacts with the etale topology. I also study algebraic varieties in finite and mixed characteristics. Finite characteristics are universes in which the rules of arithmetic are modified by choosing a prime number p, and setting it to zero. For instance, in characteristic 3 the equation 1+1+1=0 holds. In mixed characteristic, p need not be 0, but the sequence 1,p, p^2, p^3 ... converges to 0.Although classical geometry of varieties does not make sense in finite and mixed characteristics, the etale topology provides a suitable alternative, allowing us to gain much valuable insight into the behaviour of the Galois group. This is an area which I find fascinating, as much topological intuition still works in contexts far removed from real and complex geometry. Indeed, many results in complex geometry have been motivated by phenomena observed in finite characteristic.Moduli spaces parametrise classes of geometric objects, and can themselves often be given geometric structures, similar to those of algebraic varieties. This structure tends to misbehave at points parametrising objects with a lot of symmetry. To obviate this difficulty, algebraic geometers work with moduli stacks, which parametrise the symmetries as well as the objects. Sometimes the symmetries can themselves have symmetries and so on, giving rise to infinity stacks.Usually, the dimension of a moduli stack can be calculated by naively counting the degrees of freedom in defining the geometric object it parametrises. However, the space usually contains singularities (points where the space is not smooth), and regions of different dimensions. Partially inspired by ideas from theoretical physics, it has been conjectured that every moduli stack can be extended to a derived moduli stack, which would have the expected dimension, but with some of the dimensions only virtual. Extending to these virtual dimensions also removes the singularities, a phenomenon known as hidden smoothness . Different classification problems can give rise to the same moduli stack, but different derived moduli stacks. Much of my work will be to try to construct derived moduli stacks for a large class of problems. This has important applications in algebraic geometry, as there are many problems for which the moduli stacks are unmanageable, but which should become accessible using derived moduli stacks. I will also seek to investigate the geometry and behaviour of derived stacks themselves.A common thread through the various aspects of my project will be to find ways of applying powerful ideas and techniques from a branch of topology, namely homotopy theory, in contexts where they would not, at first sight, appear to be relevant.