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IMA Thematic Year on Emerging Applications of Dynamical Systems
September 1997 - June 1998

Dynamical systems theory describes general patterns found in the solutions of systems of nonlinear differential equations. The theory focuses upon those equations representing the change of processes in time. Geometric and analytic study of simple examples has led to tremendous insight into universal aspects of nonlinear dynamics. Experimental studies in diverse areas ranging from fluid flows to chemical reactions to laser dynamics to cardiac rhythms to neural output have confirmed the ubiquity of these dynamical patterns. Harnessing theoretical advances in the mathematics for the solution of larger, more complex practical problems requires further effort in understanding algorithmic and computational issues related to dynamical systems, extensions of the theory to important classes of systems that arise in applications, and attention to the modeling of complex systems that are accessible to only limited measurements of their components.

Work at applying the methods developed by dynamical systems theory to "real world" problems has been a thoroughly interdisciplinary effort. For over fifteen years, there has been a lively dialogue between mathematicians, scientists and engineers concerning the observation and interpretation of dynamical patterns in laboratory and natural systems. To some extent, missing from this discussion has been a set of quantitative models that accurately represent the behavior of the observed systems. The patterns identified by the theory are qualitative, and frequently the theory has been used to classify patterns rather than to build models that can be used for purposes of design or prediction. Computational capabilities have been a limiting factor in constructing such models since they seldom lend themselves to solution solely with analytic methods.

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