is a self-reinforcing solitarywave(awave packetor pulse)that maintains its shape while it travels at constant speed. Solitons are caused by a cancellationof nonlinearanddispersive effectsin the medium. (The term "dispersive effects" refers to aproperty of certain systems where the speed of the waves varies according to frequency.)Solitons arise as the solutions of a widespread class of weakly nonlinear dispersivepartialdifferential equationsdescribing physical systems. The soliton phenomenon was first describedbyJohn Scott Russell(1808
A single, consensus definition of a soliton is difficult to find ascribe threeproperties to solitons:1.
They are of permanent form;2.
They are localised within a region;3.
They can interact with other solitons, and emerge from the collision unchanged, exceptfor aphase shift.More formal definitions exist, but they require substantial mathematics. Moreover, somescientists use the term
for phenomena that do not quite have these three properties(for instance, the'light bullets'of nonlinear opticsare often called solitons despite losingenergy during interaction).
Dispersion and non-linearity can interact to produce permanentand localized wave forms. Consider a pulse of light traveling in glass. This pulse can bethought of as consisting of light of severaldifferent frequencies. Since glass shows dispersion, these different frequencies will travel atdifferent speeds and the shape of the pulse will therefore change over time. However, there isalso the non-linearKerr effect:therefractive indexof a material at a given frequency dependson the light's amplitude or strength. If the pulse has just the right shape, the Kerr effect willexactly cancel the dispersion effect, and the pulse's shape won't change over time: a soliton.Seesoliton (optics)for a more detailed description.Manyexactly solvable modelshave soliton solutions, including theKorteweg