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Modern microscopic techniques following the stochastic motion of labelled tracer particles have uncovered significant deviations from the laws of Brownian motion in a variety of animate and inanimate systems. Such anomalous diffusion can have different physical origins, which can be identified from careful data analysis. In particular, single particle tracking provides the entire trajectory of the traced particle, which allows one to evaluate different observables to quantify the dynamics of the system under observation. We here provide an extensive overview over different popular anomalous diffusion models and their properties. We pay special attention to their ergodic properties, highlighting the fact that in several of these models the long time averaged mean squared displacement shows a distinct disparity to the regular, ensemble averaged mean squared displacement. In these cases, data obtained from time averages cannot be interpreted by the standard theoretical results for the ensemble averages. Here we therefore provide a comparison of the main properties of the time averaged mean squared displacement and its statistical behaviour in terms of the scatter of the amplitudes between the time averages obtained from different trajectories. We especially demonstrate how anomalous dynamics may be identified for systems, which, on first sight, appear to be Brownian. Moreover, we discuss the ergodicity breaking parameters for the different anomalous stochastic processes and showcase the physical origins for the various behaviours. This Perspective is intended as a guidebook for both experimentalists and theorists working on systems, which exhibit anomalous diffusion.

We consider diffusion processes with a spatially varying diffusivity giving rise to anomalous diffusion. Such heterogeneous diffusion processes are analysed for the cases of exponential, power-law, and logarithmic dependencies of the diffusion coefficient on the particle position. Combining analytical approaches with stochastic simulations, we show that the functional form of the space-dependent diffusion coefficient and the initial conditions of the diffusing particles are vital for their statistical and ergodic properties. In all three cases a weak ergodicity breaking between the time and ensemble averaged mean squared displacements is observed. We also demonstrate a population splitting of the time averaged traces into fast and slow diffusers for the case of exponential variation of the diffusivity as well as a particle trapping in the case of the logarithmic diffusivity. Our analysis is complemented by the quantitative study of the space coverage, the diffusive spreading of the probability density, as well as the survival probability.

Brownianmotion is ergodic in the Boltzmann–Khinchin sense that long time averages of physical observables such as the mean squared displacement provide the same information as the corresponding ensemble average, even at out-of-equilibrium conditions. This property is the fundamental prerequisite for single particle tracking and its analysis in simple liquids. We study analytically and by event-driven molecular dynamics simulations the dynamics of force-free cooling granular gases and reveal a violation of ergodicity in this Boltzmann–
Khinchin sense as well as distinct ageing of the system. Such granular gases comprise materials such as dilute gases of stones, sand, various types of powders, or large molecules, and their mixtures are ubiquitous in Nature and technology, in particular in Space. We treat—depending on the physical-chemical properties of the inter-particle interaction upon their pair collisions—both a constant and a velocity-dependent (viscoelastic) restitution coefficient e. Moreover we compare the granular gas dynamics with an effective single particle stochastic model based on an underdamped Langevin equation with time dependent diffusivity. We find that both models share the same behaviour of the ensemble mean squared displacement (MSD) and the velocity correlations in the limit of weak dissipation. Qualitatively, the reported non-ergodic behaviour is generic for granular gases with any realistic dependence of e on the impact velocity of particles.

Brownianmotion is ergodic in the Boltzmann–Khinchin sense that long time averages of physical observables such as the mean squared displacement provide the same information as the corresponding ensemble average, even at out-of-equilibrium conditions. This property is the fundamental prerequisite for single particle tracking and its analysis in simple liquids. We study analytically and by event-driven molecular dynamics simulations the dynamics of force-free cooling granular gases and reveal a violation of ergodicity in this Boltzmann-Khinchin sense as well as distinct ageing of the system. Such granular gases comprise materials such as dilute gases of stones, sand, various types of powders, or large molecules, and their mixtures are ubiquitous in Nature and technology, in particular in Space. We treat—depending on the physical-chemical properties of the inter-particle interaction upon their pair collisions—both a constant and a velocity-dependent
(viscoelastic) restitution coefficient e. Moreover we compare the granular gas dynamics with an effective single particle stochastic model based on an underdamped Langevin equation with time dependent diffusivity. We find that both models share the same behaviour of the ensemble mean squared displacement (MSD) and the velocity correlations in the limit of weak dissipation. Qualitatively, the reported non-ergodic behaviour is generic for granular gases with any realistic dependence of e on the impact velocity of particles.

What are the fundamental laws for the adsorption of charged polymers onto oppositely charged surfaces, for convex, planar, and concave geometries? This question is at the heart of surface coating applications, various complex formation phenomena, as well as in the context of cellular and viral biophysics. It has been a long-standing challenge in theoretical polymer physics; for realistic systems the quantitative understanding is however often achievable only by computer simulations. In this study, we present the findings of such extensive Monte-Carlo in silico experiments for polymer–surface adsorption in confined domains. We study the inverted critical adsorption of finite-length polyelectrolytes in three fundamental geometries: planar slit, cylindrical pore, and spherical cavity. The scaling relations extracted from simulations for the critical surface charge density sc—defining the adsorption–desorption transition—are in excellent agreement with our analytical calculations based on the ground-state analysis of the Edwards equation. In particular, we confirm the magnitude and scaling of sc for the concave interfaces versus the Debye screening length 1/k and the extent of confinement a for these three interfaces for small ka values. For large ka the critical adsorption condition approaches the known planar limit. The transition between the two regimes takes place when the radius of surface curvature or half of the slit thickness a is of the order of 1/k. We also rationalize how sc(k) dependence gets modified for semi-flexible versus flexible chains under external confinement. We examine the implications of the chain length for critical adsorption—the effect often hard to tackle theoretically—putting an emphasis on polymers inside attractive spherical cavities. The applications of our findings to some biological systems are discussed, for instance the adsorption of nucleic acids onto the inner surfaces of cylindrical and spherical viral capsids.

We study the diffusion of a tracer particle, which moves in continuum space between a lattice of excluded volume, immobile non-inert obstacles. In particular, we analyse how the strength of the tracer–obstacle interactions and the volume occupancy of the crowders alter the diffusive motion of the tracer. From the details of partitioning of the tracer diffusion modes between trapping states when bound to obstacles and bulk diffusion, we examine the degree of localisation of the tracer in the lattice of crowders. We study the properties of the tracer diffusion in terms of the ensemble and time averaged mean squared displacements, the trapping time distributions, the amplitude variation of the time averaged mean squared displacements, and the non-Gaussianity parameter of the diffusing tracer. We conclude that tracer–obstacle adsorption and binding triggers a transient anomalous diffusion. From a very narrow spread of recorded individual time averaged trajectories we exclude continuous type random walk processes as the underlying physical model of the tracer diffusion in our system. For moderate tracer–crowder attraction the motion is found to be fully ergodic, while at stronger attraction strength a transient disparity between ensemble and time averaged mean squared displacements occurs. We also put our results into perspective with findings from experimental single-particle tracking and simulations of the diffusion of tagged tracers in dense crowded suspensions. Our results have implications for the diffusion, transport, and spreading of chemical components in highly crowded environments inside living cells and other structured liquids.

The looping of polymers such as DNA is a fundamental process in the molecular biology of living cells, whose interior is characterised by a high degree of molecular crowding. We here investigate in detail the looping dynamics of flexible polymer chains in the presence of different degrees of crowding. From the analysis of the looping–unlooping rates and the looping probabilities of the chain ends we show that the presence of small crowders typically slows down the chain dynamics but larger crowders may in fact facilitate the looping. We rationalise these non-trivial and often counterintuitive effects of the crowder size on the looping kinetics in terms of an effective solution viscosity and standard excluded volume. It is shown that for small crowders the effect of an increased viscosity dominates, while for big crowders we argue that confinement effects (caging) prevail. The tradeoff between both trends can thus result in the impediment or facilitation of polymer looping, depending on the crowder size. We also examine how the crowding volume fraction, chain length, and the attraction strength of the contact groups of the polymer chain affect the looping kinetics and hairpin formation dynamics. Our results are relevant for DNA looping in the absence and presence of protein mediation, DNA hairpin formation, RNA folding, and the folding of polypeptide chains under biologically relevant high-crowding conditions.