UK Nonlinear News, November 1999

Stochaos -- Stochastic and Chaotic Dynamics in the Lakes

Ambleside, 16-20 August 1999

By Peter McClintock

As readers of Nonlinear News will be well aware, the need for interdisciplinary conferences on nonlinear dynamics arises because of the universal character of the subject. In practice, one finds that essentially the same scientific problems are being tackled, and often the same difficulties arise, in widely separated subject areas. So it is essential to bring researchers together from time to time to pool their knowledge and discuss the best way forward in areas of common interest. The aim of the STOCHAOS conference was thus to provide a forum for the discussion of developments in nonlinear science, making special efforts to promote connections between the deterministic and stochastic communities. International experts selected by the International Technical Committee (see below) helped to span gaps, address a wide audience, see connections, and integrate related results coming from far-flung parts of the subject area.

The meeting included 5 keynote invited (40-minute) talks, 15 invited (30-minute) talks, 57 contributed (20-minute) talks, and a poster session with more than 40 posters, some providing additional details of material presented in the talks. In order to encourage discussion and communication among what was a very diverse audience, parallel oral sessions were eschewed. A poster competition was held to encourage high quality productions. There were two interdisciplinary round-table discussions, and a session in which Karen Southwell, Senior Editor at Nature outlined editorial policy and procedures and explained what this interdisciplinary journal usually looks for in a paper. The conference included 135 delegates in total. It was accommodated in the Charlotte Mason campus of St Martin's College, Ambleside, Cumbria, in the Lake District -- area of outstanding natural beauty felt to be conducive to scientific exchange between the different communities.

The conference was both international, with delegates from Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain, UK, Ukraine, USA -- and highly interdisciplinary drawing delegates from departments and institutes of Aeronautical Engineering, Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Avionics, Biology, Biophysics, Biomedical Engineering, Building and Fire Research, Chaos and Turbulence Studies, Chemistry, Computer Science, Data Analysis and Modelling, Electronics, Engineering (Civil, Mechanical, Electrical), Fractal Research, Fusion Science, Geophysics, Material Science, Mathematics, Medical Physiology, Neurodynamics, Nonlinear Dynamics, Optics, Physical Chemistry, Physics, Polymer Studies, Quantum Chemistry, Semiconductors, Signal Processing, Theory, and Zoology.

One of the principal unifying themes of the conference was the physics and mathematics of large fluctuations. Most of the interesting and important events that occur in fluctuating nonlinear systems arise through ``special'' large fluctuations that occur only rarely. The topic is immediately related, for example, to stochastic resonance, escape over a potential barrier, Brownian ratchets, nucleation and switching between different regimes, such as turbulent and laminar flows. It also relates to deterministic nonlinear dynamics and chaos through the notion of optimal paths, thus opening up a whole new area of applications for the Hamiltonian dynamics of nonlinear systems. Much of the dramatic progress towards an understanding of large fluctuations made in the last few years has stemmed from the introduction of experimental techniques for investigating them. Experiments have introduced a note of reality into what since the 1950s had been a purely theoretical activity, and have helped to identify the physical observables in such problems. Recent developments in both experiment and theory were well represented at the conference.

The concept of large fluctuations was also applicable to much else in the conference (e.g. to changes of the state of the cardiovascular system), even though explicit analytic treatments have yet to be developed. It seems likely that the corresponding theory will find important applications in a variety of control problems, enabling the destructive effects of large fluctuations (such as the failures of lasers) to be avoided, and the energy requirements of desirable transitions to be minimised.

The conference was supported by Nature magazine, by the US Office of Naval Research International Field Office (London), and by Lancaster University.

We believe that the Proceedings -- currently in press with the American Institute of Physics and due to appear in January 2000 -- constitute a reasonably accurate summary of what took place in Ambleside. They will provide a representative wide-angle snapshot of current activity in stochastic and chaotic dynamics, its status and aspirations. We hope that, as we enter the new millennium, this collection will at least in a small way help to stimulate further developments in this fascinating and extremely important area of study.

25 October 1999


J. Brindley (UK) A.R. Bulsara (USA) J. Collins (USA)
R. Eisenberg (USA) A.V. Holden (UK) J. Iwaniszewski (Poland)
J. Kadtke (USA) J. Kurths (Germany) P.S. Landa (Russia)
R. Landauer (USA) R. Mannella (Italy) M. Morillo (Spain)
E. Mosekilde (Denmark)F. Moss (USA) C. Nicolis (Belgium)
M. Shlesinger (USA) M. Soskin (Ukraine) D.L. Stein (USA)
K. Wiesenfeld (USA)

Winners of the Poster Competition

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