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Computational Methods in Physics PHYS 3437. Dr Rob Thacker Dept of Astronomy & Physics (MM-301C) [email protected] Today’s Lecture. Use MC techniques to simulate a random walk A few slides on random number generators. Mobility of molecules.

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Computational methods in physics phys 3437

Computational Methods in Physics PHYS 3437

Dr Rob Thacker

Dept of Astronomy & Physics (MM-301C)

[email protected]

Today s lecture
Today’s Lecture

  • Use MC techniques to simulate a random walk

  • A few slides on random number generators

Mobility of molecules
Mobility of molecules

  • Consider a single molecule suspended in air, on average how far will it travel in 1s?

  • Naïve calculation: mv2/2=(5/2)kT for a diatomic gas, hence

  • k=1.38x10-23 J s-1 and take T=300 K, take mass to be that of N2~28mp=4.68x10-26 kg

  • Implies a velocity of v=665 m s-1

Distance travelled
Distance travelled

  • So does a molecule move 2/3 km on average in 1s?

  • No – collisions ensure that the motion changes direction an enormous number of times per second

  • Result – average molecule moves < 1 m in a second

  • The path of a particle frequently interrupted by collisions is called a random walk

Random walks diffusion
Random walks & diffusion

  • Gas diffusion can be approximated on the atomic scale by modelling many thousands of particles undergoing random walks

  • We do not need to know any specific details about the collisions

    • just that they occur randomly

    • After each collision the new direction is random

  • We’ll just look at the properties of one random walk in this lecture though

Scattering angle random points on a sphere
Scattering angle – random points on a sphere

  • After the collision the incident particle i is scattered in a random direction

  • The scattering directions should be equally distributed on the surface of a sphere

  • This is not the same as picking q and f randomly!





Picking points randomly on a sphere
Picking points randomly on a sphere

  • Left result is from randomly choosing f[0,2p] and q[0,p]

  • Notice that points are more clustered around the pole

Spherical geometry
Spherical geometry

  • If one uses spherical polar coordinates to describe the surface, the area element on the sphere is dW=sin q dq df

  • Think about the geometry near the poles – when q=0 the f coordinate is completely degenerate

  • Since dW contains a factor of sin q we cannot take a uniform distribution of f & q

  • However since –d(cos q)=sin q dq we can write |dW|=d(cos q) df

  • This means we take a uniform distribution of f where f[0,2p]

  • We also take a uniform distribution of cos q[-1,1]

sin q df

sin q



dW=sin q dq df

Back of the envelope calculation for mean free path
Back of the envelope calculation for mean free path


  • Let s be the cross-sectional area of each particle

  • Let n=number of particles per unit volume of side length l

  • What distance l is required so that the accumulated cross section of particles is ½l2?

    • i.e. half of the time the incident particle will collide with another particle after having travelled l


Average free streaming length
Average free streaming length

  • Given the distance l and cross sectional area l2 the total number of particles in the volume ll2 is nll2

  • Assuming the particles are distributed on a “lattice” that has no overlaps the total accumulated cross section of all these particles is just snll2

  • Need to find l such that snll2 =l2/2

  • Simple rearrangement gives l=1/(2sn)

  • Note that the factor of ½ is a result of us assuming that there are no overlaps

Lattices are not realistic in this case
Lattices are not realistic in this case

  • If we think about particles being arranged on a lattice then there are a number of possible paths with an infinite path length between collisions

  • Of course this is improbably unlikely to ever occur in a gas – the particles will be distributed randomly

  • The random distribution will have a number of overlaps which means the factor of proportionality is 1/√2 rather than ½

  • Hence

Estimate of the free streaming length
Estimate of the free streaming length

  • Given

  • We plug in s=(10-9)2 m2

  • n~NA/(22 l) = 6.02×1023 / 0.022 m3 ~ 2.7×1025 m-3

  • Find that l~2.6×10-8 m

  • Diameter of N2 molecule ~ 3.1×10-10 m

  • This is roughly 83 molecular diameters – so not too large!

  • Given this information we can now put together a Monte Carlo random walk routine

Mc random walk algorithm
MC random walk algorithm

  • Choose f[0,2p) and cos q [-1,1] at random

  • Let the particle move l, go to 1

    Need to keep track of particles original position (i.e. (0,0,0)) current position, and the number of collisions N

    Implementation hint: leaves distances in units of l. That way you can scale results after the simulation is completed for different l.

Mc experiment
MC Experiment

  • We perform m experiments, and allow up to N=1000 collisions (for example)

    • Typically we take m~500 or more, for example

  • For each N we calculate the average distance <d>RMS/l that the particle has migrated from the origin

    • The average is taken over the m paths

    • <d>RMS is given by

  • Plot up <d>RMS/l and look at results

The underlying law is very obvious here

Simulating that many collisions is incredibly

difficult right now, although the US has computers

capable of almost 1015 operations per second

Simple explanation of n scaling in 1d
Simple explanation of √N scaling in 1d

  • Consider a random walk in 1d, you can go forwards or back

  • Each step in building up the path is given by a random variable xi, xi is either +1 or -1

    • Clearly the average value of xi is zero: <xi>=(1+ -1)/2=0

    • The average value of xi2 is 1: <xi2>=(1+1)/2=1

  • Path endpoint d is given by

  • The mean of the square of number of paths is then

  • The cross terms <xixj> i≠j average to zero: -1×1+-1×-1+1×1+1×-1=0

  • Hence the RMS distance is

Different classifications of random ness
Different classifications of random-“ness”

  • Truly Random

    • Exhibiting true randomness – values cannot be predicted in any way

  • Pseudorandom

    • Appearance of randomness but having a deterministic pattern

    • Period of pattern can be exceptionally long

    • Must produce “good” approximation to a random deviate

  • Quasi(sub)-random

    • Having a set of non-random numbers in a randomized order

    • Useful when we want a series of points to have certain properties

      • e.g. optimal space filling, like Sobol, Halton sequences

Hardware generators
Hardware generators

  • Linux operating system example: “/dev/random”

    • Gathers information from hardware within the computer through the operating system – “noise”

      • creates an “entropy pool” that is used to create the random numbers

    • Avoids tracking things such as network traffic that can be manipulated by outsiders

    • Was designed to be a true random generator but recent research (March 2006) has shown it has a few weaknesses

  • Other inputs for random information:

    • Readings from a Geiger counter – based on a quantum process, completely unpredictable in theory

    • Detected noise from a radio receiver

    • Thermal or quantum-mechanical noise, amplified to provide a random voltage source.

Humour lavarnd

Lava Lamps!

SGI created a random generator based upon random bits that were extracted from images of the erupting blobs inside six Lava Lite lamps

Project is no longer functioning

A new project uses the same idea but relies on noise in the ccd of digital cameras

Humour: LavaRnd

Commercial rngs
Commercial RNGs

  • Operate from USB or Serial connections

    • Standard mode is to deliver one byte of data at a time

    • Current models pass “DIEHARD” battery of tests

    • Very fast generation

    • Prices range anywhere from ~$100 to more than $1,000 per unit

Types of pseudo random generator
Types of pseudo random generator

  • Linear Congruential Generators

    • Based on a simple iterative process

  • Lagged Fibonnaci Generators

    • Utilize a similar concept to the Fibonacci sequence

  • Shift Register Generators

    • Similar in principle to LFGs

  • Combined Generators

    • Can be designed to offer best of combined methods

Linear congruential generators lcg
Linear Congruential Generators(LCG)

  • A Linear Congruential Generator (LCG) is defined as

    Ij+1 = (Ij a + c) mod m

    Where –

    Ij – current number [I0 – seed]

    Ij+1 – next number

    a - multiplier

    c - increment

    m – modulus

  • The period is clearly (at most) the value of the modulus, m.

mod m=remainder after

dividing by m

Park and miller minimal lcg
Park and Miller “minimal” LCG

  • Really Lewis, Goodman & Miller (1968) – algorithm was extensively reviewed in a later paper by Park and Miller

  • By choosing the period and multiplier carefully LCGs of the form Ij+1 = Ij a mod m can be made to behave very well

    • This type of form cannot use 0 as the initial seed

  • LG & M suggest choosing

    • a=75 and m=231-1

  • Implementing it in a code is straightforward apart from one very important issue

    • The multiplication of Ij by a will frequently produce an overflow

    • Rather than using a 64bit multiplication we can use “Schrage’s method” to avoid overflow (see slide after summary)


  • RANDU is an infamous LCG that was widespread on IBM mainframes in 1960s

    • And adopted elsewhere!

  • Definition: Ij+1=(65539I j) mod 231

  • Straightforward algebra shows that


  • Describes a series of planes in 3d (15)

  • Many scientific papers were invalidated due to the poor properties of RANDU

Quick dirty estimates
Quick & dirty estimates

  • Sometimes you just need a variable to “slightly” randomize things on a very quick timescale

  • LCG generators provide a good way of doing this provided we choose m,a,c appropriately

    • But we want to avoid overflow, which constrains variable values

    • NR gives a list of suitable values for m,a,c

  • Example FORTRAN code for a [0:1] deviate:



  • Even faster generator are possible if we first check that overflow is a well behaved process

    • low order bits only survive

    • Then can use something like i=1664525*i+1013904223

Lagged fibonnaci generators
Lagged Fibonnaci Generators

  • LFGs are based on the concept of the Fibonnaci sequence & are closely related to MRGs

    • In=In-1+In-2

    • 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, …

    • The idea can be generalized to any operator (as opposed to addition) and to any pair of previous values n-j, n-k as opposed to n-1 and n-2

  • Currently popular LFG’s include Additive LFG’s based upon the following formula

    • In=In-j+In-k (mod 2m ) where 0<j<k

    • k and l are called “lags”– the current value is determined by values from l and k places ago

Survey of numerical recipes routines
Survey of Numerical Recipes routines

  • You may well come across codes containing these routines, so it is worthwhile knowing what they are

  • Ran0 – Park-Miller LCG

    • Minimal generator

    • Fails statistical tests for N>few 107, much less than the period

  • Ran1 – Park-Miller plus a Bays-Durham shuffle routine

    • Tries to avoid “low-order” serial correlations

    • Improves statistical performance significantly

  • Ran2 – Longer period generator (1018) based upon L’Ecuyer’s method of combining sequences (with shuffle)

    • Believed to produce “perfect” random numbers

    • $1000 waiting if you can prove it doesn’t

  • Ran3 – Knuth’s subtractive method

    • Very robust & fast

  • Ran4 – Data encryption standard based generator

Mersenne twister

Mersenne Twister

  • The Mersenne Twister by Matsumoto & Nishimura (1998) is a comparatively new algorithm with many useful properties

    • An enormous period, 219937-1, (~106000) – significantly larger than other generators

    • Provides equidistribution to at least 623-dimensions, and probably higher

    • The algorithm can be implemented efficiently on RISC hardware

      • it avoids multiplication and division

    • Requires little memory

      • 624 words needed for the working area

  • Its name derives from the fact that period length is chosen to be a Mersenne prime

  • The GSL library includes an implementation of MT

  • MT home page contains C, FORTRAN, as well as 32bit and 64bit versions


  • Monte Carlo methods can be applied to simulate physical systems that undergo essentially random interactions

  • Can show with numerical experiments that random walk distance is proportional to √N where N is the number of collisions

  • Hardware alternatives are available if you really need true random numbers

  • LCGs are useful for generating quick and dirty sequences, but are outclassed by more modern algorithms

  • Use the Mersenne-Twister if you want really good random numbers and don’t have any time constraints

Next lecture
Next Lecture

  • Introduction to simple parallel programming

Schrage s method


Schrage’s Method

  • Suppose we have generated an value Ij=z, and our next step is create the product az and then take az mod m

  • If m=aq, for some q, then we see immediately that az mod aq=a(z mod q)

    • Thus we can do the modulo step before we take the product az and avoid overflow

  • Schrage’s Method is exactly this idea extended to allow m=aq+r

  • The resulting identity (z≥0) is

  • For the Park Miller example we take