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In mathematics and physics, a soliton or solitary wave is a self-reinforcing wave packet that maintains its shape while it propagates at a constant velocity. Solitons are caused by a cancellation of nonlinear and dispersive effects in the medium. (The term "dispersive effects" refers to a property of certain systems where the speed of the waves varies according to frequency.) Solitons are the solutions of a widespread class of weakly nonlinear dispersive partial differential equations describing physical systems.

Definition- A single, consensus definition of a soliton is difficult to find.

Drazin Johnson (1989,p.15) ascribe three properties to solitons: Are of permanent form; They are localized within a region; They can interact with other solitons, and emerge from the collision unchanged, except for a phase shift. More formal definitions exist, but they require substantial mathematics.

Explanation A hyperbolic secant (sech) envelope soliton for water waves: The blue line is the carrier signal, while the red line is the envelope soliton.

Dispersion and nonlinearity can interact to produce permanent and localized wave forms. Consider a pulse of light traveling in glass. This pulse can be thought of as consisting of light of several different frequencies. Since glass shows dispersion, these different frequencies travel at different speeds and the shape of the pulse therefore changes over time. However, also the nonlinear Kerr effect occurs; the refractive index of a material at a given frequency depends on the light's amplitude or strength. If the pulse has just the right shape, the Kerr effect exactly cancels the dispersion effect, and the pulse's shape does not change over time, thus is a soliton. See soliton (optics) for a more detailed description.

Many exactly solvable models have soliton solutions, including the Korteweg de Vries equation, the nonlinear Schrodinger equation, the coupled nonlinear Schrodinger equation, and the sine-Gordon equation. The soliton solutions are typically obtained by means of the inverse scattering transform, and owe their stability to the integrability of the field equations. The mathematical theory of these equations is a broad and very active field of mathematical research.

Some types of tidal bore, a wave phenomenon of a few rivers including the River Severn, are 'undular': a wavefront followed by a train of solitons. Other solitons occur as the undersea internal waves, initiated by seabed topography, that propagate on the oceanic pycnocline. Atmospheric solitons also exist, such as the morning glory cloud of the Gulf of Carpentaria, where pressure solitons traveling in a temperature inversion layer produce vast linear roll clouds. The recent and not widely accepted soliton model in neuroscience proposes to explain the signal conduction within neurons as pressure solitons.

A topological soliton, also called a topological defect, is any solution of a set of partial differential equations that is stable against decay to the "trivial solution". Soliton stability is due to topological constraints, rather than integrability of the field equations. The constraints arise almost always because the differential equations must obey a set of boundary conditions, and the boundary has a nontrivial homotopy group, preserved by the differential equations. Thus, the differential equation solutions can be classified into homotopy classes.

No continuous transformation maps a solution in one homotopy class to another. The solutions are truly distinct, and maintain their integrity, even in the face of extremely powerful forces. Examples of topological solitons include the screw dislocation in a crystalline lattice, the Dirac string and the magnetic monopole in electromagnetism, the Skyrmion and the Wess–Zumino–Witten model in quantum field theory, the magnetic skyrmion in condensed matter physics, and cosmic strings and domain walls in cosmology.

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