The Institute's research addresses live challenges within a broad set of application domains and fundamental problems in complex systems theory. Target systems span 22 orders of magnitude, from sub-atomic interactions to global processes. This breadth means that we engage with many of the themes identified as critical by, e.g., the UK Research Councils: Digital Economy, Intelligent Infrastructure, Changing Environment, Nanoengineering, Health, etc.
The Institute's application domains are unified in two important ways. First, they share a common concern with understanding how high-level phenomena arise from low-level interactions. Second, each application domain relies increasingly upon sophisticated simulation modelling to interpret data, understand emergent phenomena, generate theory and hypotheses, direct experimentation, optimise design, and predict system behaviour.
Although the Institute's research can be subdivided into several broad domains there are deep shared questions and mutual synergies that span our selected domains. As a consequence, some research activities cut across this organisation. By working in this way, the Institute is able to tackle fundamental trans-disciplinary research in complex systems simulation and the tools supporting it.
We identify our key themes and research domains as:
Case Study: Parallel Multi-physics Simulations of Functional Nano-structures
Progressive minituarisation of nanodevices requires the simulation of different types of physics within the same model. For example, data in harddisks is currently stored by reversing small magnetic islands using an applied magnetic field. The next generation of magnetic media is likely to write data using spin-polarised currents, or the combination of a magnetic field and heat (for example from a laser which is focused on the area that should be written to) or superimposed AC-fields.
More examples of research activity in this theme here.
Case Study: Glacier Response to Climate Change: Integrating Data from an Environmental Sensor Network
The glacial environment is one the most complex and unknown environments on earth. A glacier is a composite mix of water in its solid and liquid state combined with dry and wet granular materials (sediment). The link between climate change and the glacier response is complex, because these interacting elements. It has recently been shown in Greenland that an increase in summer heat has melted the surface of the glacier, which has rapidly reached and lubricated the bed, making the glacier flow faster, and so bringing more ice into the zone of summer melting, thus accelerating glacier flow and glacier retreat. Joint research between ICSS members in Geography and ECS has developed a wireless sensor network to monitor glacial process within and beneath the glacier. Analysis of the sensor network data will allow the development of models to investigate the complex processes that control glacier behaviour.
Hart, J. K. and Martinez, K. (2006) Environmental Sensor Networks:A revolution in the earth system science? Earth-Science Reviews 78 pp. 177-191.
Case Study: Modelling Hand Function and Performance in Piano Playing
The quality of an action is very difficult to define. What makes one person better, more efficient or effective, at doing an activity than another? In some activities, such as musical performance, it is often very clear what constitutes a "good" performance, and it is often easier to determine exactly what constitutes an "expert" or virtuoso performance. You can certainly hear the difference. But what does that individual do, how do they approach their activity from the point of view of their body-positioning that allows them to make those seamless transitions look so effortless and sound so beautiful? The challenge is to break down the movements and the interactions within the activity. Using empirical data and novel techniques developed at the University of Southampton, we can train simulations to extrapolate this information, build musculoskeletal models to help us identify the key factors associated with complex hand dexterity, methods of learning, and ultimately identifying what the transitions are, and stages of learning between novices through to expert virtuoso performance.
More examples of research activity in this theme...