In a nano-scale system out of thermodynamic equilibrium, it is important to account for thermal fluctuations. Typically, the thermal noise contributes fluctuations, e.g., of distances that are substantial in comparison to the size of the system and typical distances measured. If the thermal fluctuations are ignored, misinterpretation of measured quantities such as interaction forces, potentials, and constants may result. Here, we consider a particle moving in a time-dependent landscape, as, e.g., in an optical tweezers or atomic force nanoscopic measurement. Based on the Kramers equations, we propose an approximate but quantitative way of dealing with such an out-of-equilibrium system. The limits of this approximate description of the escape process are determined through optical tweezers experiments and comparison to simulations. Also, this serves as a recipe for how to use the proposed method to obtain knowledge about the underlying energy landscape from a set of experimental measurements. Finally, we perform estimates of the error made if thermal fluctuations are ignored.
Physical Review E (statistical, Nonlinear, and Soft Matter Physics), 2006, Vol 73, Issue 5