Research by Trinity College Assistant Professor of Mathematics Per Sebastian Skardal, above, on dynamical systems, with many possible biological and technological applications, was published in August 2015 in the online journal Science Advances.

Titled “Control of coupled oscillator networks with application to microgrid technologies,” the paper was written with co-author Alex Arenas, who served as Skardal’s postdoctoral research adviser at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain.

SILO_Skardal2Skardal is an applied mathematician with a particular interest in dynamical systems — which he describes as systems that evolve in time — and their ties with complex networks. “I use the example with students these days of Facebook. Everyone goes on Facebook; it’s a social network, so you have these links connecting different people if they’re friends,” he said. “I study how different groups of people or objects interact and how those interactions lead to particular behaviors. I’m particularly interested in when something big happens in the network, when all the objects start behaving similarly, or when an epidemic grows into a big thing that affects a lot of people.”

A biological example can be found in cardiac pacemaker cells, which Skardal said have to synchronize so they can send signals to the rest of the heart. The power grid is an example of mechanical synchronization.

“An efficient power grid … is a power grid where all of the sources and loads are synchronized with one another, so they have to move at the same rate,” he said. “And when one desynchronizes, that basically corresponds to a power failure in that region.”

Skardal hopes that this research could contribute to the continuing development of microgrids, smaller power grids that can operate in isolation from the larger power grid. He added, “What we really believe and hope for is that these ideas are actually much more general. For instance, when a heart is beating asynchronously, in a ventricular fibrillation sort of state, we could use these ideas to synchronize systems using as little control as possible.”
Skardal, who came to Trinity in July 2015, holds a B.A. from Boston College and an M.S. and a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado at Boulder.