Abstract:
The collective behaviour of statistical systems close to critical points is characterized by an extremely slow dynamics which, in the thermodynamic limit, eventually prevents them from relaxing to an equilibrium state after a change in the thermodynamic control parameters. The non-equilibrium evolution following this change displays some of the features typically observed in glassy materials, such as ageing, and it can be monitored via dynamic susceptibilities and correlation functions of the order parameter, the scaling behaviour of which is characterized by universal exponents, scaling functions, and amplitude ratios. This universality allows one to calculate these quantities in suitable simplified models and field-theoretical methods are a natural and viable approach for this analysis. In addition, if a statistical system is spatially confined, universal Casimir-like forces acting on the confining surfaces emerge and they build up in time when the temperature of the system is tuned to its critical value. We review here some of the theoretical results that have been obtained in recent years for universal quantities, such as the fluctuation-dissipation ratio, associated with the non-equilibrium critical dynamics, with particular focus on the Ising model with Glauber dynamics in the bulk. The non-equilibrium dynamics of the Casimir force acting in a film is discussed within the Gaussian model.

Abstract:
The Casimir effect in quantum electrodynamics (QED) is perhaps the best-known example of fluctuation-induced long-ranged force acting on objects (conducting plates) immersed in a fluctuating medium (quantum electromagnetic field in vacuum). A similar effect emerges in statistical physics, where the force acting, e.g., on colloidal particles immersed in a binary liquid mixture is affected by the classical thermal fluctuations occurring in the surrounding medium. The resulting Casimir-like force acquires universal features upon approaching a critical point of the medium and becomes long-ranged at criticality. In turn, this universality allows one to investigate theoretically the temperature dependence of the force via representative models and to stringently test the corresponding predictions in experiments. In contrast to QED, the Casimir force resulting from critical fluctuations can be easily tuned with respect to strength and sign by surface treatments and temperature control. We present some recent advances in the theoretical study of the universal properties of the critical Casimir force arising in thin films. The corresponding predictions compare very well with the experimental results obtained for wetting layers of various fluids. We discuss how the Casimir force between a colloidal particle and a planar wall immersed in a binary liquid mixture has been measured with femto-Newton accuracy, comparing these experimental results with the corresponding theoretical predictions.

Abstract:
We consider the dynamics of an isolated quantum many-body system after a sudden change of one control parameter, focusing on the statistics of the work done. We establish a connection between the generating function of the distribution of the work and the partition function of a classical system in a film geometry. Using this connection, we first show that the scaling of the fidelity susceptibilities close to a quantum phase transition can be understood in terms of the critical behavior of the excess entropy and specific heat in the classical model. Remarkably, we show that the statistics of the work close to the threshold and to criticality is connected to the so-called critical Casimir free energy which is responsible for the interaction between the boundaries of the classical system. On the basis of this relation, we highlight the emerging universal features of the statistics of the work. Our findings are exemplified for a global quench of the transverse Ising chain at zero temperature.

Abstract:
In the past few years systems with slow dynamics have attracted considerable theoretical and experimental interest. Ageing phenomena are observed during this ever-lasting non-equilibrium evolution. A simple instance of such a behaviour is provided by the dynamics that takes place when a system is quenched from its high-temperature phase to the critical point. The aim of this review is to summarize the various numerical and analytical results that have been recently obtained for this case. Particular emphasis is put to the field-theoretical methods that can be used to provide analytical predictions for the relevant dynamical quantities. Fluctuation-dissipation relations are discussed and in particular the concept of fluctuation-dissipation ratio (FDR) is reviewed, emphasizing its connection with the definition of a possible effective temperature. The Renormalization-Group approach to critical dynamics is summarized and the scaling forms of the time-dependent non-equilibrium correlation and response functions of a generic observable are discussed. From them the universality of the associated FDR follows as an amplitude ratio. It is then possible to provide predictions for ageing quantities in a variety of different models. In particular the results for Model A, B, and C dynamics of the O(N) Ginzburg-Landau Hamiltonian, and Model A dynamics of the weakly dilute Ising magnet and of a \phi^3 theory, are reviewed and compared with the available numerical results and exact solutions. The effect of a planar surface on the ageing behaviour of Model A dynamics is also addressed within the mean-field approximation.

Abstract:
We study the off-equilibrium response and correlation functions and the corresponding fluctuation-dissipation ratio for a purely dissipative relaxation of an O(N) symmetric vector model (Model A) below its upper critical dimension. The scaling behavior of these quantities is analyzed and the associated universal functions are determined at first order in epsilon expansion in the high-temperature phase and at criticality. A non trivial limit of the fluctuation-dissipation ratio is found in the aging regime.

Abstract:
We consider the out-of-equilibrium, purely relaxational dynamics of a weakly diluted Ising model in the aging regime at criticality. We derive at first order in a $\sqrt{\epsilon}$ expansion the two-time response and correlation functions for vanishing momenta. The long-time limit of the critical fluctuation-dissipation ratio is computed at the same order in perturbation theory.

Abstract:
The off-equilibrium purely dissipative dynamics (Model A) of the O(N) vector model is considered at criticality in an $\epsilon = 4- d > 0$ up to O($\epsilon^2$). The scaling behavior of two-time response and correlation functions at zero momentum, the associated universal scaling functions, and the nontrivial limit of the fluctuation-dissipation ratio are determined in the aging regime.

Abstract:
We study the off-equilibrium two-point critical response and correlation functions for the relaxational dynamics with a coupling to a conserved density (Model C) of the O(N) vector model. They are determined in an \epsilon=4-d expansion for vanishing momentum. We briefly discuss their scaling behaviors and the associated scaling forms are determined up to first order in epsilon. The corresponding fluctuation-dissipation ratio has a non trivial large time limit in the aging regime and, up to one-loop order, it is the same as that of the Model A for the physically relevant case N=1. The comparison with predictions of local scale invariance is also discussed.

Abstract:
We discuss a systematic way to dimensionally regularize divergent sums arising in field theories with an arbitrary number of physical compact dimensions or finite temperature. The method preserves the same symmetries of the action as the conventional dimensional regularization and allows an easy separation of the regulated divergence from the finite term that depends on the compactification radius (temperature).

Abstract:
A recent Letter [Phys. Rev. Lett. 103, 156101 (2009)] reports the experimental observation of aggregation of colloidal particles dispersed in a liquid mixture of heavy water and 3-methylpyridine. The experimental data are interpreted in terms of a model which accounts solely for the competing effects of the interparticle electrostatic repulsion and of the attractive critical Casimir force. Here we show, however, that the reported aggregation actually occurs within ranges of values of the correlation length and of the Debye screening length ruled out by the proposed model and that a significant part of the experimental data presented in the Letter cannot be consistently interpreted in terms of such a model.