Section: Application Domains


Tosca is interested in developing stochastic models and probabilistic numerical methods. Our present motivations come from models with singular coefficients, with applications in Geophysics, Molecular Dynamics and Neurosciences; Lagrangian modeling in Fluid Dynamics and Meteorology; Population Dynamics, Evolution and Genetics; Neurosciences; and Financial Mathematics.

Stochastic models with singular coefficients: Analysis and simulation

Stochastic differential equations with discontinuous coefficients arise in Geophysics, Chemistry, Molecular Dynamics, Neurosciences, Oceanography, etc. In particular, they model changes of diffusion of fluids, or diffractions of particles, along interfaces.

For practioners in these fields, Monte Carlo methods are popular as they are easy to interpret — one follows particles — and are in general easy to set up. However, dealing with discontinuities presents many numerical and theoretical challenges. Despite its important applications, ranging from brain imaging to reservoir simulation, very few teams in mathematics worldwide are currently working in this area. The Tosca project-team has tackled related problems for several years providing rigorous approach. Based on stochastic analysis as well as interacting with researchers in other fields, we developed new theoretical and numerical approaches for extreme cases such as Markov processes whose generators are of divergence form with discontinuous diffusion coefficient.

The numerical approximation of singular stochastic processes can be combined with backward stochastic differential equations (BSDEs) or branching diffusions to obtain Monte Carlo methods for quasi-linear PDEs with discontinuous coefficients. The theory of BSDEs has been extensively developed since the 1980s, but the general assumptions for their existence can be quite restrictive. Although the probabilistic interpretation of quasi-linear PDEs with branching diffusions has been known for a long time, there have been only a few works on the related numerical methods.

Another motivation to consider stochastic dynamics in a discontinuous setting came to us from time evolution of fragmentation and coagulation phenomena, with the objective to elaborate stochastic models for the avalanche formation of soils, snow, granular materials or other geomaterials. Most of the models and numerical methods for avalanches are deterministic and involve a wide variety of physical parameters such as the density of the snow, the yield, the friction coefficient, the pressure, the basal topography, etc. One of these methods consists in studying the safety factor (or limit load) problem, related to the shallow flow of a visco-plastic fluid/solid with heterogeneous thickness over complex basal topography. The resulting nonlinear partial differential equation of this last theory involves many singularities, which motivates us to develop an alternative stochastic approach based on our past works on coagulation and fragmentation. Our approach consists in studying the evolution of the size of a typical particle in a particle system which fragments in time.

Stochastic Lagrangian modeling in Computational Fluid Dynamics

Stochastic Lagrangian models were introduced in the eighties to simulate complex turbulent flows, particularly two-phase flows. In Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), they are intensively used in the so-called Probability Density Functions (PDF) methods in order to model and compute the reaction-phase terms in the fundamental equations of fluid motions. The PDF methods are currently developed in various laboratories by specialists in scientific computation and physicists. However, to our knowledge, we are innovating in two ways:

  • our theoretical studies are the pioneering mathematical analysis of Lagrangian stochastic models in CFD;

  • our work on the Stochastic Downscaling Method (SDM) for wind simulation is the first attempt to solve the fundamental equations themselves by a fully 3D stochastic particle method.

We emphasize that our numerical analysis is essential to the SDM development which takes benefits from our deep expertise on numerical schemes for McKean-Vlasov-non-linear SDEs.

Population Dynamics, Evolution and Genetics

The activity of the team on stochastic modeling in population dynamics and genetics mainly concerns application in adaptive dynamics, a branch of evolutionary biology studying the interplay between ecology and evolution, ecological modeling, population genetics in growing populations, and stochastic control of population dynamics, with applications to cancer growth modeling. Stochastic modeling in these areas mainly considers individual-based models, where the birth and death of each individual is described. This class of model is well-developed in Biology, but their mathematical analysis is still fragmentary. Another important topic in population dynamics is the study of populations conditioned to non-extinction, and of the corresponding stationary distributions, called quasi-stationary distributions (QSD). This domain has been the object of a lot of studies since the 1960’s, but we made recently significant progresses on the questions of existence, convergence and numerical approximation of QSDs using probabilistic tools rather than the usual spectral tools.

Our activity in population dynamics also involves a fully new research project on cancer modeling at the cellular level by means of branching processes. In 2010 the International Society for Protons Dynamics in Cancer was launched in order to create a critical mass of scientists engaged in research activities on Proton Dynamics in Cancer, leading to the facilitation of international collaboration and translation of research to clinical development. Actually, a new branch of research on cancer evolution is developing intensively; it aims in particular to understand the role of proteins acting on cancerous cells' acidity, their effects on glycolysis and hypoxia, and the benefits one can expect from controlling pH regulators in view of proposing new therapies.

Stochastic modeling in Neuroscience

It is generally accepted that many different neural processes that take place in the brain involve noise. Indeed, one typically observes experimentally underlying variability in the spiking times of an individual neuron in response to an unchanging stimulus, while a predictable overall picture emerges if one instead looks at the average spiking time over a whole group of neurons. Sources of noise that are of interest include ionic currents crossing the neural membrane, synaptic noise, and the global effect of the external environment (such as other parts of the brain).

It is likely that these stochastic components play an important role in the function of both the neurons and the networks they form. The characterization of the noise in the brain, its consequences at a functional level and its role at both a microscopic (individual neuron) level and macroscopic level (network of thousands of neurons) is therefore an important step towards understanding the nervous system.

To this end, a large amount of current research in the neuroscientific literature has involved the addition of noise to classical purely deterministic equations resulting in new phenomena being observed. The aim of the project is thus to rigorously study these new equations in order to be able to shed more light on the systems they describe.

Stochastic modeling in Financial Mathematics

Technical Analysis

In the financial industry, there are three main approaches to investment: the fundamental approach, where strategies are based on fundamental economic principles; the technical analysis approach, where strategies are based on past price behavior; and the mathematical approach where strategies are based on mathematical models and studies. The main advantage of technical analysis is that it avoids model specification, and thus calibration problems, misspecification risks, etc. On the other hand, technical analysis techniques have limited theoretical justifications, and therefore no one can assert that they are risk-less, or even efficient.

Financial Risks Estimation and Hedging

Popular models in financial mathematics usually assume that markets are perfectly liquid. In particular, each trader can buy or sell the amount of assets he/she wants at the same price (the “market price”). They moreover assume that the decision taken by the trader does not affect the price of the asset (the small investor assumption). In practice, the assumption of perfect liquidity is never satisfied but the error due to liquidity is generally negligible with respect to other sources of error such as model error or calibration error, etc.

Derivatives of interest rates are singular for at least two reasons: firstly the underlying (interest rate) is not directly exchangeable, and secondly the liquidity costs usually used to hedge interest rate derivatives have large variation in times.

Due to recurrent crises, the problem of risk estimation is now a crucial issue in finance. Regulations have been enforced (Basel Committee II). Most asset management software products on the markets merely provide basic measures (VaR, Tracking error, volatility) and basic risk explanation features (e.g., “top contributors” to risk, sector analysis, etc).

Energy and Carbon Markets

With the rise of renewable energy generation (from solar, wind, waves...), engineers face new challenges which heavily rely on stochastic and statistical problems.

Besides, in the context of the beginning of the second phase (the Kyoto phase) in 2008 of the European carbon market, together with the fact that French carbon tax was scheduled to come into law on Jan. 1, 2010, the year 2009 was a key year for the carbon price modeling. Our research approach adopts the point of view of the legislator and energy producers. We used both financial mathematical tools and a game theory approach. Today, with the third phase of the EU-ETS, that didn’t yet start, and the report form the Cour des Comptes (October 2013) that pointed out (among many others point) the lack of mathematical modeling on such carbon market design, we continue our research in this direction.

Optimal Stopping Problems

The theory of optimal stopping is concerned with the problem of taking a decision at the best time, in order to maximise an expected reward (or minimise an expected cost). We work on the general problem of optimal stopping with random discounting and additional cost of observation.

First hitting times distributions

Diffusion hitting times are of great interest in finance (a typical example is the study of barrier options) and also in Geophysics and Neurosciences. On the one hand, analytic expressions for hitting time densities are well known and studied only in some very particular situations (essentially in Brownian contexts). On the other hand, the study of the approximation of the hitting times for stochastic differential equtions is an active area of research since very few results still are available in the literature.