Cross Disciplinary Feasibility Account: Warwick Centre for Fusion Space and Astrophysics.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: Physics


A central idea that we wish to pursue is the dynamic response of real world complex systems to 'shock or surprise'. Both the brain and financial systems (meaning markets, individual companies or sectors), are functionally comprised of many interacting elements which propagate and process information. A highly topical question is whether it is possible to quantify from available data when the response of a system to a 'shock' will be within normal bounds (normal response time to a neurological test task, a fluctuation in price) or will be highly correlated and catastrophic (a seizure, a stock market crash or company failure). Understanding this would lead to paradigm shifting insights into both brain function and financial system dynamics. Researchers within Warwick's interdisciplinary EPSRC and STFC funded Centre for Fusion, Space and Astrophysics (CFSA) have pioneered techniques to analyse 'real world' data from laboratory experiments for Magnetic Confinement Fusion and from astrophysical plasmas. These plasma systems can exhibit rather unpredictable 'bursty' behaviour and can self organise, that is, show large scale transitions from disordered to highly ordered, correlated behaviour. We propose to apply these ideas to focus on two cross-disciplinary 'grand challenges': brain function, and market dynamics, as captured by Magnetoencephalography (MEG) measurements of the brain, and by financial and other company data. This implies a high degree of cross- disciplinary working, between plasma physicists within CFSA, Warwick, neurologists within the MRC Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge, and strategists within the Warwick Business School.In the framework of the physical sciences there is a direct and well understood mapping between quantifying such systems and modelling them. An open question that we will address is how such a mapping can be rigorously and usefully applied in the wider context. By building bridges between traditionally segregated disciplines (neuroscience, econometrics and plasma physics) we can tackle substantive interdisciplinary questions, for example, in what sense is a market crash like an epileptic seizure in the brain? Addressing such questions in a quantitative and predictive manner has the potential for far reaching impact in both clinical neuroscience and econometrics. This radical approach will enable physical models to be extended beyond their now mature application to contribute, and perhaps create, a far broader interface with the wider social sciences.

Planned Impact

The nature of the work being undertaken is highly speculative but has potential for far reaching impact. Clearly, any advance in our understanding of the response of financial markets and systems to 'shocks', or a diagnostic of neurological health based on non-invasive MEG technology will have the potential to make significant contributions to EPSRC's priority themes of security of energy supply and living with environmental change, and next generation healthcare. Who will benefit from the research and how will they benefit from this research? Development of new quantitative tools to assess how brain systems process information in healthy and disordered states will be of considerable interest to clinical neuroscience and psychiatry. Ultimately, quantitative insights into how MEG data relate to human brain function would lead to methods to diagnose cognitive function and disorders, with particular application to epilepsy and schizophrenia. The economic and social costs of brain disorders associated with impaired cognitive function and poor occupational performance are substantial. The annual costs of schizophrenia alone are estimated to be in the order of 7bn annually in the UK, of which about 2bn is due to direct healthcare costs. In tackling these disorders therapeutically, a key objective is to develop better models for how distributed brain systems normally process information and how pathological disruption of these systems can lead to impairment. The development of quantitative approaches to MEG that we propose would ensure that full scientific value is obtained from the major recent investments in neuroimaging infrastructure and it will potentially provide new diagnostic and predictive biomarkers of cognitive impairment that could be used to improve patient care and to support development of new pro-cognitive drugs. The importance of the proposed research from this perspective is that it includes data on well-established cognitive testing paradigms in healthy volunteers and people with schizophrenia. This means that the results will be immediately of interest to academic and industrial neuroscientists with potential for major impact on how cognitive disorders are understood theoretically and approached therapeutically. Quantifying the likely impact of news or events on markets and companies again has clear application to their monitoring and management. The current instability has cost some 475bn globally according to the IMF. Clearly any successful mitigation techniques would be valuable to business strategists and organisations from single investors to Governments (eg Risk Analysts, Company Director mentors, Financial strategists and Central Banks). There is also potentially a significant feedback to plasma physics based challenges in particular space weather applications and to understanding enhanced confinement modes of MCF with relevance to ITER operating regimes. What will be done to ensure that they benefit from this research? Cognitive researchers are typically also practicing clinicians, and business strategists in academia work closely with companies. Results and ideas flowing from this research would therefore quickly flow into potential applications where appropriate. We will also present and promote our results more formally at workshops open to practicing clinicians and to practicing business strategists. We will engage the wider community and press where appropriate. Warwick Ventures have a strategy and procedure in place to effect licensing and dissemination to the wider business community. There is also direct benefit to the training of young researchers and enhancement of interdisciplinary activity. We will provide training and introduction to patents, licensing and spin- out companies to the researchers supported on this grant.


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Andries J (2009) Coronal Seismology by Means of Kink Oscillation Overtones in Space Science Reviews

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Anfinogentov S (2013) Decay-less kink oscillations in coronal loops in Astronomy & Astrophysics

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Bergmann A (2009) The bootstrap current in small rotating magnetic islands in Physics of Plasmas

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Botha G (2012) Formation of magnetic flux tubes in cylindrical wedge geometry in Geophysical & Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics

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Botha G (2010) Thermal conduction effects on the kink instability in coronal loops in Astronomy & Astrophysics

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Description please see the relevant research papers
Exploitation Route please see the relevant research papers and grants
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Healthcare

Description please see the relevant research papers
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Energy,Environment,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy
Impact Types Economic

Description AFOSR
Amount $100,000 (USD)
Funding ID FA9550-17-1-0054 
Organisation Airforce Office of Scientific Research 
Sector Public
Country United States
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2018
Description Fulbright-Lloyd's of London Scholarship 2017/18
Amount $60,000 (USD)
Organisation US-UK Fulbright Commission 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2018
Description NORKLIMA
Amount kr 900,000 (NOK)
Organisation Research Council of Norway 
Sector Public
Country Norway
Start 01/2014 
End 01/2016
Description Newton-CONICYT
Amount Ch$1,438,000 (CLP)
Organisation Newton Fund 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2015 
End 10/2016