What are Non-Equilibrium Systems?

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? How do we control heating in fast electronic devices, or understand how next generation solar cells might work? Can we detect whether a network of financial institutions is close to a crash? Can we predict the fate of cellular states in health and disease? 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.

Crossing discipline boundaries

As the examples above show, the challenge of understanding non-equilibrium systems 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.


The mission of the EPSRC-funded Centre for Doctoral Training in Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Non-Equilibrium Systems (CANES) is to train future research leaders in the understanding, control and design of systems far from equilibrium, based on rigorous training in theoretical modelling, simulation and data-driven analysis, and a breadth of awareness of common themes across disciplines.

CANES also functions as a UK Centre of Excellence for the research and research user community, and a national and international hub in the area of non-equilibrium systems. As part of this agenda it organises the biennial CONES meetings. CANES is embedded in the Centre for Non-Equilibrium Science (CNES) at King’s.