Non-equilibrium Statistical Mechanics: A Growing Frontier of "Pure and Applied" Theoretical Physics

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Date/Time:Monday, 07 Oct 2013 from 4:10 pm to 5:00 pm
Location:Physics 0003
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Royce Zia (Virginia Tech & Iowa State University)

Founded over a century ago, statistical mechanics for systems in thermal equilibrium has been so successful that, nowadays, it forms part of our physics core curriculum. On the other hand, most of "real life" phenomena occur under non-equilibrium conditions. Unfortunately, statistical mechanics for such systems is far from being well established. The goal of understanding complex collective behavior from simple microscopic rules (of evolution, say) remains elusive. As an example of the difficulties we face, consider predicting the existence of a tree from an appropriate collection of H,C,O,N,... atoms! Over the last two decades, an increasing number of condensed matter theorists are devoting their efforts to this frontier. After a brief summary of the crucial differences between text-book equilibrium statistical mechanics and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, I will give a bird's-eye view of some key issues, ranging from the "fundamental" to (a small set of) the "applied." The methods used also span a wide spectrum, from simple computer simulations to sophisticated field theoretic techniques. These will be illustrated in the context of an overview of our work, as well as a simple model for transport.

Recent review: Non-equilibrium statistical mechanics: From a paradigmatic model to biological transport T. Chou, K. Mallick, and R.K.P. Zia, Reports on Progress in Physics 74, 116601 (2011).

Royce Zia is Professor Emeritus at Virginia Tech, Physics Department, and Affiliate Professor at the Physics and Astronomy Department at Iowa State University. Zia received his bachelor's degree from Princeton University and a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Zia's main research topic is the study of the statistical mechanics of driven diffusive systems, a special class of physical systems far from thermal equilibrium. Zia's work had beed recognized with many awards, including Humboldt research fellowships, a research scholarship awarded by the Committee for Scholarly Communications with the People's Republic of China and U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and a Fulbright Travel Award. In 2001 and 2008 he won the prestigious Alexander von Humboldt Research Award for his work in the area of theoretical condensed matter physics, and he is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics (UK) and the American Physical Society.