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Zijlstra, Niels; Nettels, Daniel; Satija, Rohit; Makarov, Dmitrii E.; Schuler, Benjamin (2020): Transition Path Dynamics of a Dielectric Particle in a Bistable Optical Trap. In: Physical Review Letters, Vol. 125, No. 14, 146001
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Many processes in chemistry, physics, and biology involve rare events in which the system escapes from a metastable state by surmounting an activation barrier. Examples range from chemical reactions, protein folding, and nucleation events to the catastrophic failure of bridges. A challenge in understanding the underlying mechanisms is that the most interesting information is contained within the rare transition paths, the exceedingly short periods when the barrier is crossed. To establish a model process that enables access to all relevant timescales, although highly disparate, we probe the dynamics of single dielectric particles in a bistable optical trap in solution. Precise localization by high-speed tracking enables us to resolve the transition paths and relate them to the detailed properties of the 3D potential within which the particle diffuses. By varying the barrier height and shape, the experiments provide a stringent benchmark of current theories of transition path dynamics.