Section: Overall Objectives

An overview of geometric numerical integration

A fundamental and enduring challenge in science and technology is the quantitative prediction of time-dependent nonlinear phenomena. While dynamical simulation (for ballistic trajectories) was one of the first applications of the digital computer, the problems treated, the methods used, and their implementation have all changed a great deal over the years. Astronomers use simulation to study long term evolution of the solar system. Molecular simulations are essential for the design of new materials and for drug discovery. Simulation can replace or guide experiment, which often is difficult or even impossible to carry out as our ability to fabricate the necessary devices is limited.

During the last decades, we have seen dramatic increases in computing power, bringing to the fore an ever widening spectrum of applications for dynamical simulation. At the boundaries of different modeling regimes, it is found that computations based on the fundamental laws of physics are under-resolved in the textbook sense of numerical methods. Because of the vast range of scales involved in modeling even relatively simple biological or material functions, this limitation will not be overcome by simply requiring more computing power within any realistic time. One therefore has to develop numerical methods which capture crucial structures even if the method is far from “converging" in the mathematical sense. In this context, we are forced increasingly to think of the numerical algorithm as a part of the modeling process itself. A major step forward in this area has been the development of structure-preserving or “geometric" integrators which maintain conservation laws, dissipation rates, or other key features of the continuous dynamical model. Conservation of energy and momentum are fundamental for many physical models; more complicated invariants are maintained in applications such as molecular dynamics and play a key role in determining the long term stability of methods. In mechanical models (biodynamics, vehicle simulation, astrodynamics) the available structure may include constraint dynamics, actuator or thruster geometry, dissipation rates and properties determined by nonlinear forms of damping.

In recent years the growth of geometric integration has been very noticeable. Features such as symplecticity or time-reversibility are now widely recognized as essential properties to preserve, owing to their physical significance. This has motivated a lot of research [53], [50], [49] and led to many significant theoretical achievements (symplectic and symmetric methods, volume-preserving integrators, Lie-group methods, ...). In practice, a few simple schemes such as the Verlet method or the Störmer method have been used for years with great success in molecular dynamics or astronomy. However, they now need to be further improved in order to fit the tremendous increase of complexity and size of the models.