Variational Approach to Enhanced Sampling and Free Energy Calculations
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Phys. Rev. Lett. 113 (9): 090601 (August 2014)

The ability of widely used sampling methods, such as molecular dynamics or Monte Carlo simulations, to explore complex free energy landscapes is severely hampered by the presence of kinetic bottlenecks. A large number of solutions have been proposed to alleviate this problem. Many are based on the introduction of a bias potential which is a function of a small number of collective variables. However constructing such a bias is not simple. Here we introduce a functional of the bias potential and an associated variational principle. The bias that minimizes the functional relates in a simple way to the free energy surface. This variational principle can be turned into a practical, efficient, and flexible sampling method. A number of numerical examples are presented which include the determination of a three-dimensional free energy surface. We argue that, beside being numerically advantageous, our variational approach provides a convenient and novel standpoint for looking at the sampling problem.
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