Perspective: Advances, Challenges, and Insight for Predictive Coarse-Grained Models

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By averaging over atomic details, coarse-grained (CG) models provide profound computational and conceptual advantages for studying soft materials. In particular, bottom-up approaches develop CG models based upon information obtained from atomically detailed models. At least in principle, a bottom-up model can reproduce all the properties of an atomically detailed model that are observable at the resolution of the CG model. Historically, bottom-up approaches have accurately modeled the structure of liquids, polymers, and other amorphous soft materials, but have provided lower structural fidelity for more complex biomolecular systems. Moreover, they have also been plagued by unpredictable transferability and a poor description of thermodynamic properties. Fortunately, recent studies have reported dramatic advances in addressing these prior limitations. This Perspective reviews this remarkable progress, while focusing on its foundation in the basic theory of coarse-graining. In particular, we describe recent insights and advances for treating the CG mapping, for modeling many-body interactions, for addressing the state-point dependence of effective potentials, and even for reproducing atomic observables that are beyond the resolution of the CG model. We also outline outstanding challenges and promising directions in the field. We anticipate that the synthesis of rigorous theory and modern computational tools will result in practical bottom-up methods that not only are accurate and transferable but also provide predictive insight for complex systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4174-4207
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Physical Chemistry B
Issue number19
StatePublished - May 18 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Materials Chemistry


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