Let $V_t$ be a family of smooth potentials on $\mathbb{R}^n$, continuously evolving with time $t\in[0,1]$. Let $p_t$ be their associated Gibbs measure:

$\begin{aligned} &p_t(x) = \frac{e^{-V_t(x)}}{Z_t}&& \text{where}&& Z_t = \int_{\mathbb{R}^n} e^{-V_t(x)}dx.\end{aligned}$It is not easy to find a continuous dynamic $X_t$, such that at each time $t$ the distribution of $X_t$ matches $p_t$. One might be tempted to use the overderdamped Langevin dynamics,

$dX_t = - \nabla V_t(X_t)dt + \sqrt{2}dW_t$with $(W_t)$ a Brownian motion. But the density $\rho_t$ of $X_t$ **is not equal to $p_t$ in general**. Indeed, $\rho_t$ solves the Fokker-Planck equation

If $\rho_t$ was equal to $p_t$, then $p_t$ should also satisfy this equation; but for $p_t$ one easily checks that the RHS is zero, resulting in $\dot{p}_t=0$ which is false in general if we choose a family of evolving potentials; it would only be true at equilibrium when $V_t$ is constant.

The Jarczynski trick allows to reconnect the distribution of $X_t$ with $p_t$. It introduces a weight, the solution of an auxiliary ODE, such that its conditional expectation given $X_t=x$ gives $p_t(x)$, hence correcting the mismatch between $\rho_t$ and $p_t$.

*(In the sequel we note $F_t = \log Z_t$, and the dot in $\dot{V}_t$ or $\dot{F}_t$ always represents a derivative with respect to time. )*

Let $(X_t, W_t)$ be the solution of the following *augmented system*: $\begin{aligned}
&dX_t = - \nabla V_t(X_t)dt + \sqrt{2}dW_t &&& X_0 \sim p_0 \\&dW_t = (-\dot{V}_t(X_t) - \dot{F_t})W_t dt &&& W_0=1.
\end{aligned}$ Then, for any test function $\varphi$, $\mathbf{E}[\varphi(X_t)W_t] = \int \varphi(x)\frac{e^{-V_t(x)}}{Z_t}dx.$ In other words, the probability measure $P(A) = \mathbf{E}[\mathbf{1}_A W_t]$ is exactly $p_t$.

Jarczynski's goal was to compute, at least numerically, the partition functions $Z_t$ or equivalently the free energy $F_t = - \log Z_t$. The *Jarczynski estimator*, discovered in 1996, simply consists in applying (5) to $\varphi=1$, and noting that $W_t$ is a simple ODE solved by

**Jarzynski's identity** states that

The consequence of this identity is that

$\log \mathbf{E}[e^{-\int_0^t \dot{V}_s(X_s)ds}] = F_t - F_0,$giving rise to a natural estimator for the *free energy difference* $F_t-F_0$: one samples many paths from the dynamics (2), then computes the path integral $w_t = \int_0^t \dot{V}_s(X_s)ds$ along each path, and then average the values of $e^{-w_t}$ and take the log.

In general, exponential of paths integrals are not easy to study. The classical way to prove Jarczynski's identity directly is to use the Feynman-Kac representation of PDEs, but this proof seems quite involved; instead, the trick above with the augmented system seems to be easier. It was shown to me by Eric Vanden-Eijnden.

Equation (5) can be reformulated as follows: if we note $\varrho_t(x,w)$ the density of $(X_t, W_t)$, then

$p_t(x) = \int_0^\infty w \varrho_t(x,w)dw.$Note that the integral is only on the positive axis because $W_t$ is always positive from (6). We note $q_t(x)$ the term on the right; we are going to prove $p_t=q_t$ by proving that both satisfy the same parabolic equation, then invoke a uniqueness result.

From now on, we'll set $U_t = V_t - F_t$, so that $p_t(x) = e^{-U_t(x)}$ is normalized. Clearly, $\nabla U_t = \nabla V_t$.

We consider the system $Z_t= (X_t, W_t)$ in (4) as a single SDE

$d Z_t = f_t(Z_t)dt + \sigma dW_t$with

$\begin{aligned}&f_t(x,w) = \begin{pmatrix} - \nabla U_t(x) \\ -\dot{U}_t(x)w \end{pmatrix} &&\text{ and }&& \sigma = \mathrm{diag}(\sqrt{2}, \dotsc, \sqrt{2}, 0).\end{aligned}$Let us note $\varrho_t(x,y)$ the density of $(X_t, W_t)$, and write the associated Fokker-Planck equation; here and after, $\nabla$ is a gradient and $\nabla \cdot$ is the divergence. For clarity in this section, subscripts denote partial differentiation with respect to the corresponding variables.

$\begin{aligned}\dot{\varrho}_t &= -\nabla_{x,w} \cdot \left[ f_t\varrho_t \right] + \Delta_x \varrho_t\\ &= - (\nabla_{x,w} \cdot f_t) \varrho_t - f_t \cdot \nabla_{x,w} \varrho_t + \Delta_x \varrho_t \\ \end{aligned}$Now by the definition of $f_t$, we have $\nabla_{x,w}f_t(x,w) = - \nabla_x \nabla_x U_t(x) - \dot{U}_t(x)$, hence finally

$\dot \varrho_t(x,w)=- (\Delta_x U_t(x)) \varrho_t(x,w) + \dot{U}_t(x)\varrho_t(x,w) - f_t(x,w) \cdot \nabla_{x,w} \varrho_t (x,w) + \Delta_x \varrho_t(x,w).$We already set $q_t(x) = \int_0^\infty w \varrho_t(x,w)dw$, so that $\mathbf{E}[W_t] = \int q_t(x)dx$ for example. Multiplying the last equation by $w$, integrating, and swapping integrals and derivatives, we get

$\begin{aligned}\dot{q}_t &= \int w \dot{\varrho}_t(x,w)dw \\ &= - (\Delta_x U_t) q_t + \dot{U}_t q_t - \int w (f_t \cdot \nabla_{x,w} \varrho_t) + \Delta_x q_t \end{aligned}$We have $f_t \cdot \nabla_{x,w} \varrho_t = - \nabla_x U_t \cdot \nabla_x \varrho_t - \dot{U}_t w \nabla_w \varrho_t$, hence

$\begin{aligned}\dot{q}_t &= - (\Delta U_t) q_t + \dot{U}_t q_t + \nabla_x U_t \cdot \nabla_x q_t + \dot{U}_t \int w^2 \nabla_w \varrho_t(x,w)dw+ \Delta_x q_t. \end{aligned}$An integration by parts shows that $\int_0^\infty w^2 \nabla_w \varrho_t(x,w)dw = -2 \int_0^\infty w \varrho_t(x,w)dw = -2q_t(x)$, provided a sufficient decay of $w \to w^2 \varrho(x,w)$ at infinity. We obtain the following equation:

$\begin{aligned} \dot{q}_t &= -(\Delta_x U_t)q_t - \dot{U}_t q_t + \nabla_x U_t \cdot \nabla_x q_t + \Delta_x q_t \\ &= \Delta q_t - \nabla \cdot [q_t \nabla U_t ] - \dot{U}_t q_t \end{aligned}$where I removed the subscript for clarity. This equation is a Fokker-Planck equation (first terms) but with a birth-death term added at the end.

It turns out that the density $p_t(x) = e^{-U_t(x)}$ is a solution of this equation. Indeed, $\dot{p}_t = - \dot{U}_t p_t$ and $\nabla p_t = -\nabla U_t p_t$, so that it is easy to check that (16) is satisfied.

We're now left with checking that the solutions of

$\dot{u}_t = \Delta u_t - \nabla \cdot [u_t B_t] + C_tu_t$are essentially unique if they start with the same initial conditions, which is the case here. In the equation $B_t = \nabla U_t$ and $C_t=-\dot{U}_t$. Uniqueness for solutions of parabolic equations is well-known to PDE theorists and can be found in Evans' book, chapter 7. We provide a proof for completeness. Indeed, by linearity, it is sufficient to check that the only solution of (17) started at $u_0(x) = 0$ is identically zero. Set $\gamma(t):=\int |u_t(x)|^2dx$; we're going to bound its derivative using "energy estimates". We have

$\begin{aligned}\dot{\gamma}(t) &= \int u_t \Delta u_t - u_t\nabla\cdot [u_t B_t] + |u_t|^2 C_t. \end{aligned}$The first term is $-\int |\nabla u_t|^2$. The second term is equal to $+\int \nabla u_t \cdot u_t B_t$ by integration by parts. Young's inequality $a \cdot b \leqslant \lambda |a|^2 + |b|^2 / 4\lambda$, valid for any $\lambda>0$, yields

$\int \nabla u_t \cdot u_tF_t \leqslant \lambda \int |\nabla u_t|^2 + \frac{1}{4\lambda}\int |u_t|^2 |B_t|^2.$In particular with $\lambda=1$ we cancel the first term and we obtain

$\dot{\gamma}(t) \leqslant \frac{1}{4\lambda}\int |u_t|^2 (|B_t|^2 + C_t).$Now, if $B_t, C_t$ are bounded by some constant $c$, we get $\dot{\gamma}(t) \leqslant c \gamma(t)$. Grönwall's lemma yields $\gamma(t)\leqslant \gamma(0)e^{ct}=0$ and since $\gamma(t)$ is always positive, we get $\gamma(t)=0$ and $u_t=0$ for all $t$.

Jarzynski's paper, written in 1996.