Classical molecular dynamics is a computer simulation technique that is in widespread use across many areas of science, from physics and chemistry to materials, biology, and medicine. The method continues to attract criticism due its oft-reported lack of reproducibility which is in part due to a failure to submit it to reliable uncertainty quantification (UQ). Here we show that the uncertainty arises from a combination of (i) the input parameters and (ii) the intrinsic stochasticity of the method controlled by the random seeds. To illustrate the situation, we make a systematic UQ analysis of a widely used molecular dynamics code (NAMD), applied to estimate binding free energy of a ligand-bound to a protein. In particular, we replace the usually fixed input parameters with random variables, systematically distributed about their mean values, and study the resulting distribution of the simulation output. We also perform a sensitivity analysis, which reveals that, out of a total of 175 parameters, just six dominate the variance in the code output. Furthermore, we show that binding energy calculations dampen the input uncertainty, in the sense that the variation around the mean output free energy is less than the variation around the mean of the assumed input distributions, if the output is ensemble-averaged over the random seeds. Without such ensemble averaging, the predicted free energy is five times more uncertain. The distribution of the predicted properties is thus strongly dependent upon the random seed. Owing to this substantial uncertainty, robust statistical measures of uncertainty in molecular dynamics simulation require the use of ensembles in all contexts.
Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation
Scientific Computing

Vassaux, M, Wan, S, Edeling, W.N, & Coveney, P.V. (2021). Ensembles are required to handle aleatoric and parametric uncertainty in molecular dynamics simulation. Journal of Chemical Theory and Computation, 17(8), 5187–5197. doi:10.1021/acs.jctc.1c00526