New Perspectives in Active Systems

Workshop Report

The workshop "New perspectives in Active Systems”, organized by scientific coordinators Fernando Peruani and Cristián Huepe, took place at the Max-Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPIPKS) in Dresden, April 24–28, 2023. The meeting was a great success, gathering over 200 participants from all over the world, including 60 on-site and almost 150 online. To develop a community-building experience, and maximize interactions, all presenters were required to attend in person.

The goal of the meeting was to go beyond standard descriptions of active systems by discussing models and experiments that explore new types of dynamics, interactions, and emergent states. To this end, we brought together researchers working on experiments, simulations, data analysis, and theoretical concepts that we expect to become increasingly central to the field in the next few years. To set the tone of the workshop, both scientific coordinators delivered a joint colloquium that highlighted the many new interesting research directions that are yet to be explored in active systems and their relevance for understanding the self-organization of natural and artificial systems at multiple scales.

Among the invited speakers, G. de Polavieja (Champalimaud Foundation) and G. Theraulaz (CNRS Toulouse) described new ways to extract the interactions in animal groups from tracking datasets. P. Romanczuk (Humboldt U. Berlin) discussed evidence of criticality in animal collective behavior. O. Dauchot (ESPCI Paris), S. Henkes (Leiden U.), and Y. Wu (The Chinese U. of Hong Kong) presented experiments and theory in the emerging field of active elastic dense and solid systems. D. Hu (Georgia Inst. of Tech.) and A. Perna (U. of Roehampton London) showed different physical structures that can emerge in insect collectives. G. Ariel (Bar Ilan U.) and D. Chaudhuri (Inst. of Phys., Bhubaneswar) introduced statistical mechanics extensions to active systems. E. Frey (LMU München) discussed novel nonequilibrium active matter states. Finally, J.-F. Joanny (Collège de France) presented a description of active turbulence, E. Lushi (New Jersey Inst. of Tech.) detailed new simulation approaches, and M. Turner (U. of Warwick) introduced a system of active particles equipped with artificial intelligence.

These topics were complemented with over 20 selected contributed talks. These presentations greatly enhanced the scope of the meeting and included many experts in the field as well as early career researchers. Additionally, approximately 20 posters were presented in a lively poster session.

One of the highlights of the workshop was an organized group brainstorming activity during a two-and-a-half-hour slot on Thursday. In this activity, we invited all participants to answer the question: “which should be the hot research topics in active systems in 10 years?” The group was divided into four breakout rooms, each for a different research area or approach: biological systems, artificial systems, modelling, and theory. We then gathered back in the main room and each group moderator presented the ideas that were discussed. The activity was highly successful, fostering vibrant discussions and an interesting confluence of perspectives. Most workshop participants took part in the conversations and expressed their appreciation for an exercise that invited them to think beyond their day-to-day research questions and allowed them to interact in new ways with their colleagues.

The workshop organization was handled flawlessly by the Visitors Program, initially by Maria Voigt and then by Claudia Domaschke. Both did a fantastic job, managing the many administrative demands of the meeting as well as multiple requests from the participants.

In sum, the workshop was extremely successful in helping develop new collaborations and perspectives in the very interdisciplinary field of active systems, as expressed to us directly by many participants, especially early career researchers. We believe it will lead to new research ideas and collaborative efforts and look forward to the possibility of organizing a similar event in future years.