The non-equilibrium statistical physics of stochastic search, foraging and clustering
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This dissertation explores two themes central to the field of non-equilibrium statistical physics. The first is centered around the use of random walks, first-passage processes, and Brownian motion to model basic stochastic search processes found in biology and ecological systems. The second is centered around clustered networks: how clustering modifies the nature of transition in the appearance of various graph motifs and their use in modeling social networks. In the first part of this dissertation, we start by investigating properties of intermediate crossings of Brownian paths. We develop simple analytical tools to obtain probability distributions of intermediate crossing positions and intermediate crossing times of Brownian paths. We find that the distribution of intermediate crossing times can be unimodal or bimodal. Next, we develop analytical and numerical methods to solve a system of 𝑁 diffusive searchers which are reset to the origin at stochastic or periodic intervals. We obtain the optimal criteria to search for a fixed target in one, two and three dimensions. For these two systems, we also develop efficient ways to simulate Brownian paths, where the simulation kernel makes maximal use of first-passage ideas. Finally we develop a model to understand foraging in a resource-rich environment. Specifically, we investigate the role of greed on the lifetime of a diffusive forager. This lifetime shows non-monotonic dependence on greed in one and two dimensions, and surprisingly, a peak for negative greed in 1d. In the second part of this dissertation, we develop simple models to capture the non-tree-like (clustering) aspects of random networks that arise in the real world. By 'clustered networks', we specifically mean networks where the probability of links between neighbors of a node (i.e., 'friends of friends') is positive. We discuss three simple and related models. We find a series of transitions in the density of graph motifs such as triangles (3-cliques), 4-cliques etc as a function of the clustering probability. We also find that giant 3-cores emerge through first- or second-order, or even mixed transitions in clustered networks.