Colloquium on February 23, 2009

Royce K.P. Zia
Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University

Non-equilibrium statistical mechanics: A growing frontier
of "pure and applied" theoretical physics

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 how complex macroscopic behavior emerge from
simple microscopic rules (of evolution, say) remains elusive.
As an example of the difficulties we face, imagine trying to
predict the existence of a tree from a collection of H,C,O,
N,... atoms, evolving according to the rules of E&M and QM.

Over the last three decades, an increasing number of condensed
matter theorists are devoting their efforts to this frontier.
After a brief summary of the crucial differences between
equilibrium 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 "easy" computer simulations
to sophisticated field theoretic techniques. These will be
illustrated in the context of some recent projects on
which Beate Schmittmann and I are working..