The structural dynamics of a biopolymer is governed by a process of diffusion through its conformational energy landscape. In pulling experiments using optical tweezers, features of the energy landscape can be extracted from the probability distribution of the critical force at which the polymer unfolds. The analysis is often based on rate equations having Bell-Evans form, although it is understood that this modeling is inadequate and leads to unreliable landscape parameters in many common situations. Dudko and coworkers [Physical Review Letters 96, 108101 (2006)] have emphasized this critique and proposed an alternative form that includes an additional shape parameter (and that reduces to Bell-Evans as a special case). Their fitting function, however, is pathological in the tail end of the pulling force distribution, which presents problems of its own. We propose a modified closed-form expression for the distribution of critical forces that correctly incorporates the next-order correction in pulling force and is everywhere well-behaved. Our claim is that this new expression provides superior parameter extraction and is valid even up to intermediate pulling rates. We present results based on simulated data that confirm its utility.

  title = {Reliable extraction of energy landscape properties from critical force distributions},
  author = {Adhikari, Sudeep and Beach, K. S. D.},
  journal = {Phys. Rev. Research},
  volume = {2},
  issue = {2},
  pages = {023276},
  numpages = {8},
  year = {2020},
  month = {Jun},
  publisher = {American Physical Society},
  doi = {10.1103/PhysRevResearch.2.023276},
  url = {}