Exact spatio-temporal dynamics of confined lattice random walks in arbitrary dimensions: a century after Smoluchowski and Polya

Luca Giuggioli*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
44 Downloads (Pure)


A lattice random walk is a mathematical representation of movement through random steps on a lattice at discrete times. It is commonly referred to as P´olya's walk when the steps occur to either of the nearest-neighbouring sites. Since Smoluchowski's 1906 derivation of the spatio-temporal dependence of the walk occupation probability in an unbounded one-dimensional lattice, discrete random walks and their continuous counterpart, Brownian walks, have developed over the course of a century into a vast and versatile area of knowledge. Lattice random walks are now routinely employed to study stochastic processes across scales, dimensions and disciplines, from the one-dimensional search of proteins along a DNA strand and the two-dimensional roaming of bacteria in a petri dish, to the three-dimensional motion of macro-molecules inside cells and the spatial coverage of multiple robots in a disaster area.
In these realistic scenarios, when the randomly moving object is constrained to remain within a finite domain, confined lattice random walks represent a powerful modelling tool. Somewhat surprisingly, and differently from Brownian walks, the spatio-temporal dependence of the confined lattice walk probability has been accessible mainly via computational techniques, and finding its analytic description has remained an open problem. Making use of a set of analytic combinatorics identities with Chebyshev polynomials, I develop a hierarchical dimensionality reduction to find the exact space and time dependence of the occupation probability for confined P´olya's walks in arbitrary dimensions with reflective, periodic, absorbing, and mixed (reflective and absorbing) boundary conditions along each direction. The probability expressions allow one to construct the time-dependence of derived quantities, explicitly in one-dimension and via an integration in higher dimensions, such as the first-passage probability to a single target, return probability, average number of distinct sites visited, and absorption probability with imperfect traps. Exact mean first-passage time formulae to a single target in arbitrary dimensions are also presented. This in turn allows me to extend the so-called discrete pseudo-Green function formalism, employed to determine analytically mean first-passage time, with reflecting and periodic boundaries, and a wealth of other related quantities, to arbitrary dimensions. For multiple targets, I introduce a procedure to construct the time dependence of the first-passage probability to either of many targets. Reduction of the occupation probability expressions to the continuous time limit, the so-called continuous time random walk, and to the space-time continuous limit is also presented.
Original languageEnglish
Article number021045
Number of pages20
JournalPhysical Review X
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 28 May 2020


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