MMath&Phys Mathematics and Physics

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Stability Theory

Course unit fact file
Unit code MATH45032
Credit rating 15
Unit level Level 4
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Many physical systems can become unstable in the sense that small disturbances superimposed on their basic state can amplify and significantly alter their initial state. In this course we introduce the basic theoretical and physical methodology required to understand and predict instability in a variety of situations with focus on hydrodynamic instabilities and on instabilities in reaction-diffusion systems.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Viscous Fluid Flow MATH35002 Pre-Requisite Compulsory
Partial Differential Equations and Vector Calculus A MATH20401 Pre-Requisite Compulsory


The aim of this course unit is to introduce students to the basic concepts and techniques of modern stability theory, through case studies in fluid mechanics and transport phenomena.

Learning outcomes


Assuming general mechanics and fluid mechanics in particular (viscous/inviscid), as well as some aspects of dynamical systems as prerequisites for course.

1. Introduction to stability

Nonlinear dynamics. Linear instability versus nonlinear instability. Outline of the basic procedure involved in a linear stability analysis: dispersion relation, marginal stability curve. Role of weakly nonlinear theory, e.g. normal form for pitchfork bifurcation.

2. Linear stability analysis: a case study of Rayleigh-Benard convection

Introduction to physical system, Boussinesq equations, dimensional analysis, Basic state, linear theory, normal modes, marginal stability curve: Analytical approach for idealised boundary conditions.

3. Interfacial instabilities

Examples: Rayleigh-Taylor and capillary instabilities.

4. Shear flow instabilities

Inviscid/viscous, Squire's theorem. Rayleigh's equation, Rayleigh's inflexion point criterion, Howard's semi-circle theorem, Orr-Sommerfeld equation. Examples: plane Couette flow, plane Poiseuille flow, pipe flow, Taylor-Couette flow.

5. Stability in reaction diffusion systems.

Stability of propagating fronts.

6. Bifurcation theory

Local bifurcations, normal forms.

7. Nonlinear stability theory

Weakly nonlinear theory, derivation of Stuart-Landau equation, Ginzburg-Landau equation.

8. Introduction to pattern formation (if time allows)

Stripes, squares and hexagons, three-wave interactions, role of symmetry, long-wave instabilities of patterns: Eckhaus.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 20%
Written exam 80%
  • Mid-semester coursework: 20%
  • End of semester examination: weighting 80%

Feedback methods

Feedback tutorials will provide an opportunity for students' work to be discussed and provide feedback on their understanding.  Coursework or in-class tests (where applicable) also provide an opportunity for students to receive feedback.  Students can also get feedback on their understanding directly from the lecturer, for example during the lecturer's office hour.

Recommended reading

  • P.G. Drazin, Introduction to hydrodynamic stability. Cambridge University Press (2002)
  • F. Charru, Hydrodynamic Instabilities. Cambridge University Press (2011)
  • P. Manneville, Instabilities, chaos and turbulence. Imperial College Press (2004)

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 11
Tutorials 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 128

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Joel Daou Unit coordinator

Additional notes

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