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Crooks fluctuation theorem

The Crooks equation (CE) is an equation in Statistical Mechanics that relates the work done on a system during a non-equilibrium transformation to the free energy difference between the final and the initial state of the transformation. During the non equilibrium transformation the system is at constant volume and in contact with a heat reservoir. The CE is named after the chemist Gavin E. Crooks (then at University of California) who discovered it in 1998. The CE is a special case of the more general fluctuation theorem.

Additional recommended knowledge

If we define a generic reaction coordinate of the system as a function of the Cartesian coordinates of the constituent particles ( e.g. , a distance between two particles), we can characterize every point along the reaction coordinate path by a parameter λ, such that λ = 0 and λ = 1 correspond to two ensembles of microstates (see microstate (statistical mechanics)) for which the reaction coordinate is constrained to different values. A dynamical process where λ is externally driven from zero to one, according to an arbitrary time scheduling, will be referred as forward transformation , while the time reversal path will be indicated as backward transformation. Given these definitions, the CE sets a relation between the following four quantities:

  • P(A \rightarrow B), i.e. the joint probability of taking a microstate A from the canonical ensemble corresponding to λ = 0 and of performing the forward transformation to the microstate B corresponding to λ = 1;
  • P(A \leftarrow B), i.e. the joint probability of taking the microstate B from the canonical ensemble corresponding to λ = 1 and of performing the backward transformation to the microstate A corresponding to λ = 0;
  • β = (kBT) − 1, where kB is the Boltzmann constant and T the temperature of the reservoir;
  • WAB, i.e. the work done on the system during the forward transformation (from A to B);
  • ΔF = F(B) − F(A), i.e. the Helmholtz free energy difference between the state A and B, represented by the canonical distribution of microstates having λ = 0 and λ = 1, respectively).

The CE equation reads as follows:

\frac{P(A \rightarrow B)} {P( A \leftarrow B)} = \exp [ \beta ( W_{A \rightarrow B} - \Delta F )]

In the previous equation the difference WAB − ΔF corresponds to the work dissipated in the forward transformation, Wd. The probabilities P(A \rightarrow B) and P(A \leftarrow B) become identical when the transformation is performed at infinitely slow speed, i.e. for equilibrium transformations. In such case W_{A \rightarrow B} = \Delta F and Wd = 0.

Using the time reversal relation W_{AB} = - W_{A \leftarrow B}, and grouping together all the trajectories yielding the same work (in the forward and backward transformation), we can write the above equation in terms of the work distribution functions as follows

P_{A \rightarrow B} (W) = P_{A \leftarrow B}(- W) ~ \exp[\beta (W - \Delta F)]

Note that for the backward transformation, the work distribution function must be evaluated by taking the work with the opposite sign. The two work distributions for the forward and backward processes cross at W = ΔF. This fact has been experimentally verified using optical tweezers for the process of unfolding and refolding of a small RNA hairpin and an RNA three-helix junction [1]

The CE implies the Jarzynski equality.


  • Denis J. Evans & Debra J. Searles (1994). "Equilibrium microstates which generate second law violating steady states". Physical Review E 50: 1645–1648.
  • G. Crooks (1998). "Nonequilibrium Measurements of Free Energy Differences for Microscopically Reversible Markovian Systems". Journal of Statistical Physics 90: 1481–1487.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Crooks_fluctuation_theorem". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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