Nordita, Stockholm, Sweden
Equilibrium statistical physics provides an extremely powerful, universal formalism that tells us how many-particle systems in thermal equilibrium behave, and how we can characterize their properties by only a few macroscopic quantities.
However, most systems and processes found in nature are out of equilibrium. Think of any living organism, or directed transport in cells mediated by molecular motors. On a more abstract level, the most important examples include systems in a non-equilibrium initial or transient state, systems which are driven away from equilibrium by externally imposed forces, gradients or other non-equilibrium sources, or systems which are maintained in a non-equilibrium steady state by perpetual energy conversion.
Often these systems consist of only a few entities and are so small that thermal fluctuations play a prominent role. It has been a vision from the early days of statistical mechanics to develop a theoretical description for such small non-equilibrium systems that is comparably powerful and universal as is equilibrium statistical physics.
In recent years a number of new ideas and approaches in this direction, such as largedeviation theory, non-equilibrium phase transitions, and stochastic thermodynamics, have led to the first discoveries of exact relations characterizing universal properties of small non-equilibrium systems, which are valid beyond linear response.
The aim of this program is to bring together the leading experts in (non-equilibrium) statistical physics to critically discuss and evaluate the latest developments towards a universal theory for non-equilibrium systems.