Over the past decade, the EMFCSC has lacked a school specifically dedicated to statistical physics. Consequently, it has been difficult to organise events in this rapidly growing field. In recent years, the International School of the Solid State and the International School on Complexity have agreed to host events proposed by us and our colleagues, even though the topics covered were only marginally relevant.
Statistical physics is a widely accepted term to refer to a growing interdisciplinary community that includes physicists, chemists, biologists, and engineers. In this respect, statistical mechanics is only a sub-topic, while current interest is now more oriented towards biological physics and nanotechnology of bio-synthetic and artificial devices. This should ensure a broad audience and a potentially rich offering of new courses and schools.
Statistical physics has ramifications in many areas of the natural sciences, including those historically considered remote, such as particle and nuclear physics, field theory or even experimental physics, such as gravitational wave detection. The focus of an International School of Statistical Physics may change over the years, but emerging topics and discoveries are certainly expected for decades to come.
Nature shows that it is possible to design complex and efficient molecular machines. Key cellular functions are performed by a variety of molecular ‘engines’, which are currently the focus of intense research in biology. From the point of view of physicists and engineers, the existence of these biological nanomachines opens the possibility of using the principles behind their operation to guide the design of artificial nanoscale engines.
Indeed, nanotechnology can already manipulate existing functioning components – produced by nature – to develop new biomolecular motors. On the other hand, recent advances in materials science and new manufacturing techniques have enabled the prototyping of synthetic inorganic devices with atomic precision. Significant examples are NEMS (for energy harvesting), superconducting vortex devices (as solid-state qubits and THz emitters), electron shuttles (as miniaturised logic gates) and nano-porous membranes (as molecular sieves), which – similarly to biological molecular motors – can be designed to utilise energy from the environment to perform assigned tasks. In this context, due to their potential simplicity and robustness, inorganic nanodevices are attracting increasing interest as a viable option. Currently, the state of the art can be summarised as follows:
– Biologically inspired artificial devices share some important characteristics with biological motors. Due to their small size, both are dominated by non-equilibrium fluctuations, so their description in terms of macroscopic thermodynamics concepts fails; both are able to perform their function by harvesting energy from the environment, thus exploiting non-equilibrium fluctuations.
– However, at the present time and despite all efforts, the biological molecular machinery is still far superior to artificially manufactured devices, by many orders of magnitude. This remains true, even in the absence of a commonly accepted definition of efficiency for motors operating in wildly fluctuating environments.
Based on this summary, the following topics: non-equilibrium fluctuation theorems, new materials (graphene, metamaterials, etc.), nano-channels, disordered systems, noise rectifiers, noise control techniques, quantum nanomotors, micro-energetics, energy harvesting, quantum information processing and complex networks (classical and quantum) will be elaborated by the International School of Statistical Physics.