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Christian Offen, PhD, Massey University, New Zealand

 Christian Offen, PhD, Massey University, New Zealand

Numerical Mathematics and Control


+49 5251 60-5023
Technologiepark 21
33100 Paderborn
 Christian Offen, PhD, Massey University, New Zealand
08/2020 - 10/2024


Paderborn University, Department of Mathematics. Research Group Applied Mathematics, Numerics, and Optimization.

11/2016 - 09/2020

PhD in Mathematics

Massey University, New Zealand. Thesis: Analysis of Hamiltonian boundary value problems and symplectic integration, advisor: Dist. Prof. Robert McLachlan. (2019 - Hatherton Award,   2020 - Dean's List of Exceptional Theses)

10/2014 - 09/2016

Master of Science Mathematics

University of Hamburg, Master studies. Thesis: Seiberg-Witten Curves and Parabolic Affine Spheres (Differential Geometry), advisor: Prof. Dr. Vicente Cortés

10/2011 - 09/2014

Bachelor of Science Mathematics

University of Hamburg, Bachelor studies. Thesis: Classification of solutions of the Monge-Ampère equation in the finitely punctured plane (Differential Geometry), advisor: Prof. Dr. Vicente Cortés

Open list in Research Information System


Variational Learning of Euler–Lagrange Dynamics from Data

S. Ober-Blöbaum, C. Offen, Journal of Computational and Applied Mathematics (2023), 421, pp. 114780

The principle of least action is one of the most fundamental physical principle. It says that among all possible motions connecting two points in a phase space, the system will exhibit those motions which extremise an action functional. Many qualitative features of dynamical systems, such as the presence of conservation laws and energy balance equations, are related to the existence of an action functional. Incorporating variational structure into learning algorithms for dynamical systems is, therefore, crucial in order to make sure that the learned model shares important features with the exact physical system. In this paper we show how to incorporate variational principles into trajectory predictions of learned dynamical systems. The novelty of this work is that (1) our technique relies only on discrete position data of observed trajectories. Velocities or conjugate momenta do not need to be observed or approximated and no prior knowledge about the form of the variational principle is assumed. Instead, they are recovered using backward error analysis. (2) Moreover, our technique compensates discretisation errors when trajectories are computed from the learned system. This is important when moderate to large step-sizes are used and high accuracy is required. For this, we introduce and rigorously analyse the concept of inverse modified Lagrangians by developing an inverse version of variational backward error analysis. (3) Finally, we introduce a method to perform system identification from position observations only, based on variational backward error analysis.


Symplectic integration of learned Hamiltonian systems

C. Offen, S. Ober-Blöbaum, Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science (2022), 32(1)

Hamiltonian systems are differential equations which describe systems in classical mechanics, plasma physics, and sampling problems. They exhibit many structural properties, such as a lack of attractors and the presence of conservation laws. To predict Hamiltonian dynamics based on discrete trajectory observations, incorporation of prior knowledge about Hamiltonian structure greatly improves predictions. This is typically done by learning the system's Hamiltonian and then integrating the Hamiltonian vector field with a symplectic integrator. For this, however, Hamiltonian data needs to be approximated based on the trajectory observations. Moreover, the numerical integrator introduces an additional discretisation error. In this paper, we show that an inverse modified Hamiltonian structure adapted to the geometric integrator can be learned directly from observations. A separate approximation step for the Hamiltonian data avoided. The inverse modified data compensates for the discretisation error such that the discretisation error is eliminated. The technique is developed for Gaussian Processes.

Backward error analysis for conjugate symplectic methods

R. McLachlan, C. Offen, Journal of Geometric Mechanics (2022)

The numerical solution of an ordinary differential equation can be interpreted as the exact solution of a nearby modified equation. Investigating the behaviour of numerical solutions by analysing the modified equation is known as backward error analysis. If the original and modified equation share structural properties, then the exact and approximate solution share geometric features such as the existence of conserved quantities. Conjugate symplectic methods preserve a modified symplectic form and a modified Hamiltonian when applied to a Hamiltonian system. We show how a blended version of variational and symplectic techniques can be used to compute modified symplectic and Hamiltonian structures. In contrast to other approaches, our backward error analysis method does not rely on an ansatz but computes the structures systematically, provided that a variational formulation of the method is known. The technique is illustrated on the example of symmetric linear multistep methods with matrix coefficients.

Efficient time stepping for numerical integration using reinforcement learning

M. Dellnitz, E. Hüllermeier, M. Lücke, S. Ober-Blöbaum, C. Offen, S. Peitz, K. Pfannschmidt, in: SIAM Journal on Scientific Computing, 2022

Many problems in science and engineering require an efficient numerical approximation of integrals or solutions to differential equations. For systems with rapidly changing dynamics, an equidistant discretization is often inadvisable as it either results in prohibitively large errors or computational effort. To this end, adaptive schemes, such as solvers based on Runge–Kutta pairs, have been developed which adapt the step size based on local error estimations at each step. While the classical schemes apply very generally and are highly efficient on regular systems, they can behave sub-optimal when an inefficient step rejection mechanism is triggered by structurally complex systems such as chaotic systems. To overcome these issues, we propose a method to tailor numerical schemes to the problem class at hand. This is achieved by combining simple, classical quadrature rules or ODE solvers with data-driven time-stepping controllers. Compared with learning solution operators to ODEs directly, it generalises better to unseen initial data as our approach employs classical numerical schemes as base methods. At the same time it can make use of identified structures of a problem class and, therefore, outperforms state-of-the-art adaptive schemes. Several examples demonstrate superior efficiency. Source code is available at

Backward error analysis for variational discretisations of partial differential equations

R.I. McLachlan, C. Offen, Journal of Geometric Mechanics (2022), 14(3), pp. 447 - 471

In backward error analysis, an approximate solution to an equation is compared to the exact solution to a nearby ‘modified’ equation. In numerical ordinary differential equations, the two agree up to any power of the step size. If the differential equation has a geometric property then the modified equation may share it. In this way, known properties of differential equations can be applied to the approximation. But for partial differential equations, the known modified equations are of higher order, limiting applicability of the theory. Therefore, we study symmetric solutions of discretized partial differential equations that arise from a discrete variational principle. These symmetric solutions obey infinite-dimensional functional equations. We show that these equations admit second-order modified equations which are Hamiltonian and also possess first-order Lagrangians in modified coordinates. The modified equation and its associated structures are computed explicitly for the case of rotating travelling waves in the nonlinear wave equation.

Discrete Lagrangian Neural Networks with Automatic Symmetry Discovery

Y. Lishkova, P. Scherer, S. Ridderbusch, M. Jamnik, P. Liò, S. Ober-Blöbaum, C. Offen, 2022

By one of the most fundamental principles in physics, a dynamical system will exhibit those motions which extremise an action functional. This leads to the formation of the Euler-Lagrange equations, which serve as a model of how the system will behave in time. If the dynamics exhibit additional symmetries, then the motion fulfils additional conservation laws, such as conservation of energy (time invariance), momentum (translation invariance), or angular momentum (rotational invariance). To learn a system representation, one could learn the discrete Euler-Lagrange equations, or alternatively, learn the discrete Lagrangian function Ld which defines them. Based on ideas from Lie group theory, in this work we introduce a framework to learn a discrete Lagrangian along with its symmetry group from discrete observations of motions and, therefore, identify conserved quantities. The learning process does not restrict the form of the Lagrangian, does not require velocity or momentum observations or predictions and incorporates a cost term which safeguards against unwanted solutions and against potential numerical issues in forward simulations. The learnt discrete quantities are related to their continuous analogues using variational backward error analysis and numerical results demonstrate the improvement such models can have both qualitatively and quantitatively even in the presence of noise.


Bifurcation preserving discretisations of optimal control problems

C. Offen, S. Ober-Blöbaum, 2021, pp. 334-339

The first order optimality conditions of optimal control problems (OCPs) can be regarded as boundary value problems for Hamiltonian systems. Variational or symplectic discretisation methods are classically known for their excellent long term behaviour. As boundary value problems are posed on intervals of fixed, moderate length, it is not immediately clear whether methods can profit from structure preservation in this context. When parameters are present, solutions can undergo bifurcations, for instance, two solutions can merge and annihilate one another as parameters are varied. We will show that generic bifurcations of an OCP are preserved under discretisation when the OCP is either directly discretised to a discrete OCP (direct method) or translated into a Hamiltonian boundary value problem using first order necessary conditions of optimality which is then solved using a symplectic integrator (indirect method). Moreover, certain bifurcations break when a non-symplectic scheme is used. The general phenomenon is illustrated on the example of a cut locus of an ellipsoid.

Learning ODE Models with Qualitative Structure Using Gaussian Processes

S. Ridderbusch, C. Offen, S. Ober-Blöbaum, P. Goulart, in: 2021 60th IEEE Conference on Decision and Control (CDC), IEEE, 2021, pp. 2896


Preservation of Bifurcations of Hamiltonian Boundary Value Problems Under Discretisation

R.I. McLachlan, C. Offen, Foundations of Computational Mathematics (2020), 20(6), pp. 1363-1400

We show that symplectic integrators preserve bifurcations of Hamiltonian boundary value problems and that nonsymplectic integrators do not. We provide a universal description of the breaking of umbilic bifurcations by nonysmplectic integrators. We discover extra structure induced from certain types of boundary value problems, including classical Dirichlet problems, that is useful to locate bifurcations. Geodesics connecting two points are an example of a Hamiltonian boundary value problem, and we introduce the jet-RATTLE method, a symplectic integrator that easily computes geodesics and their bifurcations. Finally, we study the periodic pitchfork bifurcation, a codimension-1 bifurcation arising in integrable Hamiltonian systems. It is not preserved by either symplectic on nonsymplectic integrators, but in some circumstances symplecticity greatly reduces the error.

Detection of high codimensional bifurcations in variational PDEs

L.M. Kreusser, R.I. McLachlan, C. Offen, Nonlinearity (2020), 33(5), pp. 2335-2363

Analysis of Hamiltonian boundary value problems and symplectic integration

C. Offen, Massey University, 2020

Ordinary differential equations (ODEs) and partial differential equations (PDEs) arise in most scientific disciplines that make use of mathematical techniques. As exact solutions are in general not computable, numerical methods are used to obtain approximate solutions. In order to draw valid conclusions from numerical computations, it is crucial to understand which qualitative aspects numerical solutions have in common with the exact solution. Symplecticity is a subtle notion that is related to a rich family of geometric properties of Hamiltonian systems. While the effects of preserving symplecticity under discretisation on long-term behaviour of motions is classically well known, in this thesis (a) the role of symplecticity for the bifurcation behaviour of solutions to Hamiltonian boundary value problems is explained. In parameter dependent systems at a bifurcation point the solution set to a boundary value problem changes qualitatively. Bifurcation problems are systematically translated into the framework of classical catastrophe theory. It is proved that existing classification results in catastrophe theory apply to persistent bifurcations of Hamiltonian boundary value problems. Further results for symmetric settings are derived. (b) It is proved that to preserve generic bifurcations under discretisation it is necessary and sufficient to preserve the symplectic structure of the problem. (c) The catastrophe theory framework for Hamiltonian ODEs is extended to PDEs with variational structure. Recognition equations for A-series singularities for functionals on Banach spaces are derived and used in a numerical example to locate high-codimensional bifurcations. (d) The potential of symplectic integration for infinite-dimensional Lie-Poisson systems (Burgers’ equation, KdV, fluid equations, . . . ) using Clebsch variables is analysed. It is shown that the advantages of symplectic integration can outweigh the disadvantages of integrating over a larger phase space introduced by a Clebsch representation. (e) Finally, the preservation of variational structure of symmetric solutions in multisymplectic PDEs by multisymplectic integrators on the example of (phase-rotating) travelling waves in the nonlinear wave equation is discussed.


Symplectic integration of PDEs using Clebsch variables

R.I. McLachlan, C. Offen, B.K. Tapley, Journal of Computational Dynamics (2019), 6(1), pp. 111-130

Many PDEs (Burgers' equation, KdV, Camassa-Holm, Euler's fluid equations, …) can be formulated as infinite-dimensional Lie-Poisson systems. These are Hamiltonian systems on manifolds equipped with Poisson brackets. The Poisson structure is connected to conservation properties and other geometric features of solutions to the PDE and, therefore, of great interest for numerical integration. For the example of Burgers' equations and related PDEs we use Clebsch variables to lift the original system to a collective Hamiltonian system on a symplectic manifold whose structure is related to the original Lie-Poisson structure. On the collective Hamiltonian system a symplectic integrator can be applied. Our numerical examples show excellent conservation properties and indicate that the disadvantage of an increased phase-space dimension can be outweighed by the advantage of symplectic integration.


Bifurcation of solutions to Hamiltonian boundary value problems

R.I. McLachlan, C. Offen, Nonlinearity (2018), pp. 2895-2927

A bifurcation is a qualitative change in a family of solutions to an equation produced by varying parameters. In contrast to the local bifurcations of dynamical systems that are often related to a change in the number or stability of equilibria, bifurcations of boundary value problems are global in nature and may not be related to any obvious change in dynamical behaviour. Catastrophe theory is a well-developed framework which studies the bifurcations of critical points of functions. In this paper we study the bifurcations of solutions of boundary-value problems for symplectic maps, using the language of (finite-dimensional) singularity theory. We associate certain such problems with a geometric picture involving the intersection of Lagrangian submanifolds, and hence with the critical points of a suitable generating function. Within this framework, we then study the effect of three special cases: (i) some common boundary conditions, such as Dirichlet boundary conditions for second-order systems, restrict the possible types of bifurcations (for example, in generic planar systems only the A-series beginning with folds and cusps can occur); (ii) integrable systems, such as planar Hamiltonian systems, can exhibit a novel periodic pitchfork bifurcation; and (iii) systems with Hamiltonian symmetries or reversing symmetries can exhibit restricted bifurcations associated with the symmetry. This approach offers an alternative to the analysis of critical points in function spaces, typically used in the study of bifurcation of variational problems, and opens the way to the detection of more exotic bifurcations than the simple folds and cusps that are often found in examples.

Symplectic integration of boundary value problems

R.I. McLachlan, C. Offen, Numerical Algorithms (2018), pp. 1219-1233

Symplectic integrators can be excellent for Hamiltonian initial value problems. Reasons for this include their preservation of invariant sets like tori, good energy behaviour, nonexistence of attractors, and good behaviour of statistical properties. These all refer to {\em long-time} behaviour. They are directly connected to the dynamical behaviour of symplectic maps φ:M→M' on the phase space under iteration. Boundary value problems, in contrast, are posed for fixed (and often quite short) times. Symplecticity manifests as a symplectic map φ:M→M' which is not iterated. Is there any point, therefore, for a symplectic integrator to be used on a Hamiltonian boundary value problem? In this paper we announce results that symplectic integrators preserve bifurcations of Hamiltonian boundary value problems and that nonsymplectic integrators do not.

Local intersections of Lagrangian manifolds correspond to catastrophe theory

C. Offen, in: arXiv:1811.10165, 2018

Two smooth map germs are right-equivalent if and only if they generate two Lagrangian submanifolds in a cotangent bundle which have the same contact with the zero-section. In this paper we provide a reverse direction to this classical result of Golubitsky and Guillemin. Two Lagrangian submanifolds of a symplectic manifold have the same contact with a third Lagrangian submanifold if and only if the intersection problems correspond to stably right equivalent map germs. We, therefore, obtain a correspondence between local Lagrangian intersection problems and catastrophe theory while the classical version only captures tangential intersections. The correspondence is defined independently of any Lagrangian fibration of the ambient symplectic manifold, in contrast to other classical results. Moreover, we provide an extension of the correspondence to families of local Lagrangian intersection problems. This gives rise to a framework which allows a natural transportation of the notions of catastrophe theory such as stability, unfolding and (uni-)versality to the geometric setting such that we obtain a classification of families of local Lagrangian intersection problems. An application is the classification of Lagrangian boundary value problems for symplectic maps.

Hamiltonian boundary value problems, conformal symplectic symmetries, and conjugate loci

R.I. McLachlan, C. Offen, New Zealand Journal of Mathematics (2018), 48, pp. 83-99

In this paper we continue our study of bifurcations of solutions of boundary-value problems for symplectic maps arising as Hamiltonian diffeomorphisms. These have been shown to be connected to catastrophe theory via generating functions and ordinary and reversal phase space symmetries have been considered. Here we present a convenient, coordinate free framework to analyse separated Lagrangian boundary value problems which include classical Dirichlet, Neumann and Robin boundary value problems. The framework is then used to prove the existence of obstructions arising from conformal symplectic symmetries on the bifurcation behaviour of solutions to Hamiltonian boundary value problems. Under non-degeneracy conditions, a group action by conformal symplectic symmetries has the effect that the flow map cannot degenerate in a direction which is tangential to the action. This imposes restrictions on which singularities can occur in boundary value problems. Our results generalise classical results about conjugate loci on Riemannian manifolds to a large class of Hamiltonian boundary value problems with, for example, scaling symmetries.

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