Avalanches: From Epidemics to Supply Chain Interruptions

Presenter: Karin Dahmen, Department of Physics, University of Illinois

Wednesday, December 7

8 AM Pacific / 9 AM Mountain / 10 AM Central / 11 AM Eastern for one hour


Simple statistical models can be used to describe the statistics of domino-effect like avalanches in many systems, ranging from magnets to earthquakes to outbreaks of epidemics, to cascades supply chain interruptions. The models can be used to predict how the sizes of the largest avalanches can be kept small, and how to transfer scaling results from one system to another. The models predict qualitative phase diagrams and universal (i.e. detail-independent) scaling properties of the statistical distributions of the avalanches. These universal properties can be compared with experiments, simulations, and observations in the real world for a large variety of problems on a wide range of scales. Systems of particular interest include outbreaks in epidemics and supply chain breakdowns.


Karin Dahmen received her Vordiplom in physics from the Universit├Ąt Bonn, Germany, in 1989, and her Ph.D in physics from Cornell in 1995. Before joining the faculty at Illinois in 1999, she was a Junior Fellow at Harvard University.

She has wide-ranging interests in “soft” condensed matter physics, including nonequilibrium dynamical systems, hysteresis, avalanches, earthquakes, population biology, and disorder-induced critical behavior.