Simple molecular dynamics simulation of a Lennard-Jones fluid
This is about a simple molecular dynamics simulation of a fluid using the
Lennard-Jones potential. Phase transitions can be observed by comparing
the pair correlation functions at differnet temperatures.
- 08/2005: Updated Version 0.9
This version has support for plotting the current temperature, energy and
pressure as it evolves over time. This also helps finding the time the
equilibrium is reached. Furthermore, more images were added here.
- 08/2004: Initial Release
Initial release of the molecular dynamics sim to compute the pair correlation
What is being done
The simulation is very easily explained: There are N particles in
a 3dim box of size L (hence the particle
Initially the particles are put randomly inside the box and are given
random initial velocities. (Actually, the particles are not placed
completely random to make sure that they do not happen to lie too tight
together. And it is made sure that the initial velocities sum up to
zero so that the total momentum is 0.)
The time evolution of the system is simulated by computing
the positions of all the particles in the box. A speed-optimized Verlet
algorithm is used for numerical ODE integration. (The algorithm does not
need to be very accurate in the particle positions but should conserve total
momentum and speed.) The box has periodic boundary conditions which means
that particles which leave the box on one side re-enter on the opposite
The particles interact by the Lennard-Jones potential which looks like
V(r)=V0(r-12-r-6) where r
(In particular V(inf)=0, V(0)=+inf and there is a minimum
at V(r=21/6)=-V0/4) Hence, the Lennard-Jones
potential is very repulsive when the particles approach each other
at a distance less than
r=0.9 but attractive in the range r=1..+inf with an
attraction max at r=21/6.
In the simulation, the potential is set to 0 for distances bigger than
a certain cutoff raduis (normally 2.5 to 3) to limit the "force range".
Note that the periodic boundary conditions make force calculations a bit
tricky since particles can interact across the walls of the box.
The graph on the left shows V(r)/V0.
The temperature of the fluid (or gas) inside the box is indirectly set
via the initial particle velocities: The larger the velocities the
higher the temperature.
The main purpose of the simulation is to compute the pair correlation
function (PCF) of the particles which is averaged over a large number of
time development steps. (Of course, the periodic boundary conditions are
also taken into account when computing the PCF.)
Furthermore one can visualize the pressure, temperature and energy over
For the actual simulation, I wrote a small program which does not
require any additional libraries, just a C++ compiler and
GNUPlot(1) for the graphics. It compiles
natively under Linux but porting to other operating system should
not be hard.
The full source code is provided here so that everybody can do his
own experiments. For more information on the simulation and where to
tune the parameters refer to the comments in the source code.
The whole simulation is done in "natural" scale units, i.e. the
potential V(r) is as specified above with V0=4,
all particle masses are set to 1, etc. (If you are interested in the
details of natural units, look into fluid.cc, around line 50.)
|Source:|| ||ljfluid.tar.gz [10kb gzipped source tarball]|
|Author:||Wolfgang Wieser (report bugs here)|
|License:||GNU GPL (Version 2)|
|Requires:||C++ (gcc recommended), gnuplot|
In order to run the simulation, compile and start the fluid program
and pipe the output into gnuplot.
Alternatively one can use make run which does pretty much
the same. Gnuplot will plot the data into particle.ps which can
be viewed e.g. using gv. (Gv can be used while the sim is
running when at least one page was dumped so far.)
While the simulation is running, it outputs status information to the
terminal (stderr) which looks as follows:
nskip=0+414884, ncalc=84616, border=97.1%; rmin=0.861659; max_s=0.01298
Iter: |P|=2.1e-13, E_kin=3979.8, T=2.6532, E_pot=-4352, E/N=-0.372208, p=15.9948
This tells you the following:
In the last iteration, pair interaction between ncalc=84616 distinct
particle pairs was calculated while nskip=414884 pairs were skipped (due to
cutoff). These values always sum up to N/2*(N-1).
97.1% of all particles required special treatment because they were near one
of the box borders. The minimum distande between two particles was
rmin=0.86 and the maximum sigma (standard deviation) in the PCF accumulated
so far is max_s=0.01298. The simulation will stop when this value drops
Furthermore, the simulation just finished the 2200th iteration. The total
momentum of all particles is |P|=2.1e-13. This was initially normalized to
zero and should stay very small over all the sim. If it does not, you are in
trouble. The total kinetic and potential energies are E_kin=3979.8 and
E_pot=-4352, respectively, so the total energy per particle is E/N=-0.37.
The current temperature is T=2.65 and the current pressure is p=15.99.
Contents of particle.ps
The output file particle.ps contains the following:
First, there are several pages of simulation dumps which are mainly
interesting for debugging and seeing what is going on and represent the
simulation in action and no final results:
Red crosses display an x-y dump (z axis projected) of all particles.
The curve on the top is the current PCF.
The blue curve is the averaged PCF with error bars. This is not displayed
for the first pcf_skip cycles.
The curve on the bottom is normalized particle velocity versus particle
index and can be used to detect errors in the simulation like excessively
fast particles due to too large time steps.
Then, there is one page with the computed PCF which is the most important
final result of the simulation. The title displays the number of particles
(N), the density (rho), the number of iterations performed (iter), the
number of PCF samples taken (pcf_samps), the averaged kinetic energy
(<E_kin>), the (averaged) temperature (T) and finally how many seconds
the complete simulation took.
Note that the PCF should always start at zero and converge to 1 for large
Finally, there are 3 pages which display the pressure, the total energy per
particle and the temperature as a function of simulation time.
These 3 pages display essentially the same functions but the first page
only displays the first 1% of the sim, the second one the first 10% and
the last one displays the complete sim.
The dotted lines are the averages of the three curves (real values on the
right top); note that collecting values for the average is started after
The most important thing is to ensure that pcf_skip is so large
that it skips the initial iterations where the equilibrium state is not yet
reached. Also, the total energy per particle (green curve) should stay
constant throughout the sim (energy conservation) unless COOL_FACT
is switched on, of course.
These are some simulations I did as examples for all 3 states of the fluid:
solid, liquid, gaseous. I always used N=1000 particles and a
density rho around 1; detailed parameters are specified below.
Click on the images to enlarge.
First, the fluid in solid state:
One can see the high peak which is near the minimum of the
Lennard-Jones potential (r=21/6=1.1225). There are no
particles less distant than 1 since the potential is repulsive
in this area. One can see a double peak near r=2 which are the
second- and third-next particles and a further peak near 3 for the
The liquid state with an inital speed around 1 (0.8; any small
value will do, even 0 as long as active cooling using COOL_FACT is
Note the characteristic smooth "damped wave" (sort of).
It represents the transition between the highly ordered solid state and
the unordered gas state.
Finally, the gas state.
Particles can approach each other more closely
(like r=0.4) since their kinetic energy is very large. Note that
there is very little distance-related correlation: The PCF changes
pretty sharply from 0 to 1 which is a sign for the lack of order in
Due to cooling, the energy is not conserved and drops to negative (binding)
energy. Temperature drops to nearly zero, and pressure settles down to
a minimum given by the Lennard-Jones potential and the density.
(One can have negative pressure when the particle density rho is
so small that the particle distance is smaller than the radius of the
minimum in the LJ potential.)
In the T,E,p versus time plot, one can see that equilibrium is reached
after about 400 simulation cycles.
Then, all parameters stay fairly constant.
Due to the much larger speed of the particles (speed 1000 times larger
than for liquid but time steps only 50 times smaller time step), the
equilibrium is reached much faster (about 50 cycles). However, thermal
fluctuations are much larger.
The initial velocity was set to 10 and the system was cooled down during
the first 10000 iterations (dt=1e-3) using COOL_FACT *0.997.
A good text on numerical simulations is
M. P. Allen and D. J. Tildesley,
Computer Simulation of Liquids,
Clarendon Press (1996).
For an introduction to statistical mechanics and numerical simulations see
e.g. Elements of Statistical Mechanics, I.Sachs, S.Sen, J. Sexton,
CUP (2006) (ISBN: 0521841984)