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Scientists reveal the secrets of synchronization

Synchronization allows human spectators in a crowd to cheer together, fireflies to flash simultaneously, and metronomes to remain consistent when they are side by side. Now, researchers from Trinity College Dublin have revealed new secrets behind the intriguing phenomenon of synchronization. 

The study, which is published in the journal Physical Review Researchprovides a mathematical model elucidating synchronization.  

Scientists have long known that if one clock runs a bit faster than another, connecting the two physically can cause them to tick together. Making a large assemblage of clocks work together in this way was thought to be very hard, if not impossible. The current research shows how synchronization can work even with a large collection of clocks. 

“The equations we have developed describe an assembly of laser-like devices – acting as our ‘oscillating clocks’ – and they essentially unlock the secret to synchronization,” said Dr. Paul Eastham, Naughton Associate Professor in Physics at Trinity.

“These same equations describe many other kinds of oscillators, however, showing that synchronisation is more readily achieved in many systems than was previously thought.”

The phenomena that works with clocks works with many other systems as well, from people to insects to other machines. “Many things that exhibit repetitive behavior can be considered clocks, from flashing fireflies and applauding crowds to electrical circuits, metronomes, and lasers,” explained Dr. Eastham.

“Independently they will oscillate at slightly different rates, but when they are formed into an assembly their mutual influences can overcome that variation.”

The research has some practical applications as well. It may be possible to use this new science of synchronization to create computer systems that use light signals as a way to process data. 

The study was supported by the Irish Research Council and used resources supported by the Science Foundation Ireland. This is an example of basic research that could lead to advanced technological breakthroughs. 

“We derive phase diagrams that classify the desynchronized and synchronized states, focusing on the behavior in one and two dimensions. This is achieved by outlining the connection of the oscillator model to the quantum description of localization of a particle in a random potential through a mapping to a modified Kardar-Parisi-Zhang equation,” wrote the study authors. 

“Our results indicate that synchronization in coupled polariton condensates and other examples of low-dimensional lattices of coupled oscillators is not destroyed by randomness in their natural frequencies.”

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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