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Optimization and universality of Brownian search in a basic model of quenched heterogeneous media

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Original languageEnglish
Article number052134
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2015
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


The kinetics of a variety of transport-controlled processes can be reduced to the problem of determining the mean time needed to arrive at a given location for the first time, the so-called mean first-passage time (MFPT) problem. The occurrence of occasional large jumps or intermittent patterns combining various types of motion are known to outperform the standard random walk with respect to the MFPT, by reducing oversampling of space. Here we show that a regular but spatially heterogeneous random walk can significantly and universally enhance the search in any spatial dimension. In a generic minimal model we consider a spherically symmetric system comprising two concentric regions with piecewise constant diffusivity. The MFPT is analyzed under the constraint of conserved average dynamics, that is, the spatially averaged diffusivity is kept constant. Our analytical calculations and extensive numerical simulations demonstrate the existence of an optimal heterogeneity minimizing the MFPT to the target. We prove that the MFPT for a random walk is completely dominated by what we term direct trajectories towards the target and reveal a remarkable universality of the spatially heterogeneous search with respect to target size and system dimensionality. In contrast to intermittent strategies, which are most profitable in low spatial dimensions, the spatially inhomogeneous search performs best in higher dimensions. Discussing our results alongside recent experiments on single-particle tracking in living cells, we argue that the observed spatial heterogeneity may be beneficial for cellular signaling processes.

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland