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What are non equilibrium systems

Forest-Fire-image-2How do we control heating in fast electronic devices, or understand how next-generation solar cells might work? Can insights into extreme events in the sciences be used to detect whether a network of financial institutions is close to a crash? Can we predict the fate of cellular states in health and disease? How do we understand whether epidemics will spread, or predict the likelihood of extreme meteorological events? How do we optimize the design of nanoparticles to maximize efficiency in drug and gene delivery? 
These research challenges all relate to non-equilibrium systems. Such systems are typically irreversible, e.g. because they dissipate energy persistently pumped in from the outside, or they age towards an equilibrium state that is never reached. They also frequently exhibit extreme events, such as cascades of collective failure or the thermally activated rare event of a drug molecule being released from a vesicle. In contrast to phenomena at, or close to, equilibrium, our understanding of non-equilibrium systems is still in its infancy. 
As the examples above show, this challenge is central to a wide variety of problems across the spectrum of physical, mathematical, biological and environmental sciences. Significant advances will have to come from researchers capable of exploiting and enhancing these interdisciplinary links. 
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