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Brownian motion and beyond: first-passage, power spectrum, non-Gaussianity, and anomalous diffusion
(2019)

Brownian motion is a ubiquitous physical phenomenon across the sciences. After its discovery by Brown and intensive study since the first half of the 20th century, many different aspects of Brownian motion and stochastic processes in general have been addressed in Statistical Physics. In particular, there now exists a very large range of applications of stochastic processes in various disciplines. Here we provide a summary of some of the recent developments in the field of stochastic processes, highlighting both the experimental findings and theoretical frameworks.

Quorum-sensing bacteria in a growing colony of cells send out signalling molecules (so-called “autoinducers”) and themselves sense the autoinducer concentration in their vicinity. Once—due to increased local cell density inside a “cluster” of the growing colony—the concentration of autoinducers exceeds a threshold value, cells in this clusters get “induced” into a communal, multi-cell biofilm-forming mode in a cluster-wide burst event. We analyse quantitatively the influence of spatial disorder, the local heterogeneity of the spatial distribution of cells in the colony, and additional physical parameters such as the autoinducer signal range on the induction dynamics of the cell colony. Spatial inhomogeneity with higher local cell concentrations in clusters leads to earlier but more localised induction events, while homogeneous distributions lead to comparatively delayed but more concerted induction of the cell colony, and, thus, a behaviour close to the mean-field dynamics. We quantify the induction dynamics with quantifiers such as the time series of induction events and burst sizes, the grouping into induction families, and the mean autoinducer concentration levels. Consequences for different scenarios of biofilm growth are discussed, providing possible cues for biofilm control in both health care and biotechnology.

We show that the codifference is a useful tool in studying the ergodicity breaking and non-Gaussianity properties of stochastic time series. While the codifference is a measure of dependence that was previously studied mainly in the context of stable processes, we here extend its range of applicability to random-parameter and diffusing-diffusivity models which are important in contemporary physics, biology and financial engineering. We prove that the codifference detects forms of dependence and ergodicity breaking which are not visible from analysing the covariance and correlation functions. We also discuss a related measure of dispersion, which is a nonlinear analogue of the mean squared displacement.

For both Lévy flight and Lévy walk search processes we analyse the full distribution of first-passage and first-hitting (or first-arrival) times. These are, respectively, the times when the particle moves across a point at some given distance from its initial position for the first time, or when it lands at a given point for the first time. For Lévy motions with their propensity for long relocation events and thus the possibility to jump across a given point in space without actually hitting it ('leapovers'), these two definitions lead to significantly different results. We study the first-passage and first-hitting time distributions as functions of the Lévy stable index, highlighting the different behaviour for the cases when the first absolute moment of the jump length distribution is finite or infinite. In particular we examine the limits of short and long times. Our results will find their application in the mathematical modelling of random search processes as well as computer algorithms.

Lévy flights are paradigmatic generalised random walk processes, in which the independent stationary increments—the 'jump lengths'—are drawn from an -stable jump length distribution with long-tailed, power-law asymptote. As a result, the variance of Lévy flights diverges and the trajectory is characterised by occasional extremely long jumps. Such long jumps significantly decrease the probability to revisit previous points of visitation, rendering Lévy flights efficient search processes in one and two dimensions. To further quantify their precise property as random search strategies we here study the first-passage time properties of Lévy flights in one-dimensional semi-infinite and bounded domains for symmetric and asymmetric jump length distributions. To obtain the full probability density function of first-passage times for these cases we employ two complementary methods. One approach is based on the space-fractional diffusion equation for the probability density function, from which the survival probability is obtained for different values of the stable index and the skewness (asymmetry) parameter . The other approach is based on the stochastic Langevin equation with -stable driving noise. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages for explicit calculations and numerical evaluation, and the complementary approach involving both methods will be profitable for concrete applications. We also make use of the Skorokhod theorem for processes with independent increments and demonstrate that the numerical results are in good agreement with the analytical expressions for the probability density function of the first-passage times.

Fractional Brownian motion (FBM) is a Gaussian stochastic process with stationary, long-time correlated increments and is frequently used to model anomalous diffusion processes. We study numerically FBM confined to a finite interval with reflecting boundary conditions. The probability density function of this reflected FBM at long times converges to a stationary distribution showing distinct deviations from the fully flat distribution of amplitude 1/L in an interval of length L found for reflected normal Brownian motion. While for superdiffusion, corresponding to a mean squared displacement (MSD) 〈X² (t)〉 ⋍ tᵅ with 1 < α < 2, the probability density function is lowered in the centre of the interval and rises towards the boundaries, for subdiffusion (0 < α < 1) this behaviour is reversed and the particle density is depleted close to the boundaries. The MSD in these cases at long times converges to a stationary value, which is, remarkably, monotonically increasing with the anomalous diffusion exponent α. Our a priori surprising results may have interesting consequences for the application of FBM for processes such as molecule or tracer diffusion in the confines of living biological cells or organelles, or other viscoelastic environments such as dense liquids in microfluidic chambers.

In the scenario of the narrow escape problem (NEP) a particle diffuses in a finite container and eventually leaves it through a small 'escape window' in the otherwise impermeable boundary, once it arrives to this window and crosses an entropic barrier at the entrance to it. This generic problem is mathematically identical to that of a diffusion-mediated reaction with a partially-reactive site on the container's boundary. Considerable knowledge is available on the dependence of the mean first-reaction time (FRT) on the pertinent parameters. We here go a distinct step further and derive the full FRT distribution for the NEP. We demonstrate that typical FRTs may be orders of magnitude shorter than the mean one, thus resulting in a strong defocusing of characteristic temporal scales. We unveil the geometry-control of the typical times, emphasising the role of the initial distance to the target as a decisive parameter. A crucial finding is the further FRT defocusing due to the barrier, necessitating repeated escape or reaction attempts interspersed with bulk excursions. These results add new perspectives and offer a broad comprehension of various features of the by-now classical NEP that are relevant for numerous biological and technological systems.

We investigate anomalous diffusion processes governed by the fractional Langevin equation and confined to a finite or semi-infinite interval by reflecting potential barriers. As the random and damping forces in the fractional Langevin equation fulfill the appropriate fluctuation-dissipation relation, the probability density on a finite interval converges for long times towards the expected uniform distribution prescribed by thermal equilibrium. In contrast, on a semi-infinite interval with a reflecting wall at the origin, the probability density shows pronounced deviations from the Gaussian behavior observed for normal diffusion. If the correlations of the random force are persistent (positive), particles accumulate at the reflecting wall while antipersistent (negative) correlations lead to a depletion of particles near the wall. We compare and contrast these results with the strong accumulation and depletion effects recently observed for nonthermal fractional Brownian motion with reflecting walls, and we discuss broader implications.

Many studies on biological and soft matter systems report the joint presence of a linear mean-squared displacement and a non-Gaussian probability density exhibiting, for instance, exponential or stretched-Gaussian tails. This phenomenon is ascribed to the heterogeneity of the medium and is captured by random parameter models such as ‘superstatistics’ or ‘diffusing diffusivity’. Independently, scientists working in the area of time series analysis and statistics have studied a class of discrete-time processes with similar properties, namely, random coefficient autoregressive models. In this work we try to reconcile these two approaches and thus provide a bridge between physical stochastic processes and autoregressive models.Westart from the basic Langevin equation of motion with time-varying damping or diffusion coefficients and establish the link to random coefficient autoregressive processes. By exploring that link we gain access to efficient statistical methods which can help to identify data exhibiting Brownian yet non-Gaussian diffusion.

Astandard approach to study time-dependent stochastic processes is the power spectral density (PSD), an ensemble-averaged property defined as the Fourier transform of the autocorrelation function of the process in the asymptotic limit of long observation times, T → ∞. In many experimental situations one is able to garner only relatively few stochastic time series of finite T, such that practically neither an ensemble average nor the asymptotic limit T → ∞ can be achieved. To accommodate for a meaningful analysis of such finite-length data we here develop the framework of single-trajectory spectral analysis for one of the standard models of anomalous diffusion, scaled Brownian motion.Wedemonstrate that the frequency dependence of the single-trajectory PSD is exactly the same as for standard Brownian motion, which may lead one to the erroneous conclusion that the observed motion is normal-diffusive. However, a distinctive feature is shown to be provided by the explicit dependence on the measurement time T, and this ageing phenomenon can be used to deduce the anomalous diffusion exponent.Wealso compare our results to the single-trajectory PSD behaviour of another standard anomalous diffusion process, fractional Brownian motion, and work out the commonalities and differences. Our results represent an important step in establishing singletrajectory PSDs as an alternative (or complement) to analyses based on the time-averaged mean squared displacement.