What is the Critical Transitions in Complex Systems Centre of Excellence at IITM?

The Critical Transitions in Complex Systems Centre of Excellence at IIT Madras aims to establish a world-class research and analysis facility to study critical transitions and anomalous extremities in complex engineering and natural environments. These transitions mark an abrupt deviation from the normative characteristics of the system and can have catastrophic consequences, from breakdown of materials, to market crashes to extinction of entire biomes.

Through its analysis, the center proposes development of technologies to anticipate and mitigate critical transitions, translate its output to practical applications as well as provide education and technical dissemination programs. Using complex multilayered network analysis, the program aims to develop understanding of the physical phenomena that lead to such transitions as well as early warning systems to predict their occurrence. The center also investigates the rate of change of parameters and noise-induced tipping to better anticipate and mitigate transitions. Mitigation strategies and control actions will be developed for engineering systems and natural systems like floods.

Interestingly, dissimilar phenomena such as thermoacoustic instability and climate are driven by similar flows of fluid and energy. While in thermoacoustic systems, flow and heat release work in feedback loops with each other, wind and ocean currents (flow) actively interact with heat release (condensation/precipitation) in climate systems. Thus, insights into one system can inherently be applied to others with reliable returns.

The program’s short term (<2yrs) goal is to aid in the development of combustors for rockets, gas turbines for aero engines and electricity production, major fields where occurrence of thermo-fluid instabilities has been a plaguing problem. Current research enables prediction and early avoidance of the same.

In the medium term (<5yrs), the team will make use of complex network analysis to study the impact of extreme weather and climate events on society by means of death, injury, illness and socioeconomic markers. Through layers of satellite as well as field collected data, it will provide insights for safeguarding the agriculture industry and vulnerable ecosystems.

Over the course of the coming decade, the program hopes to provide guidelines for sustainable development, accounting for increased fluctuations in weather patterns due to global warming. Through interdisciplinary research and analysis, the centre would enable the government and private sector to make data driven decisions. This also opens an avenue for incubation of startups and alternative employment opportunities.