Virial stress

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Virial stress is a measure of mechanical stress on an atomic scale for homogeneous systems.


Virial stress is given by


  • and are atoms in the domain,
  • is the volume of the domain,
  • is the mass of atom k,
  • is the ith component of the velocity of atom k,
  • is the jth component of the average velocity of atoms in the volume,
  • is the ith component of the position of atom k, and
  • is the ith component of the force applied on atom by atom .

At zero kelvin, all velocities are zero so we have


This can be thought of as follows. The τ11 component of stress is the force in the x1-direction divided by the area of a plane perpendicular to that direction. Consider two adjacent volumes separated by such a plane. The 11-component of stress on that interface is the sum of all pairwise forces between atoms on the two sides.

In an isotropic system, at equilibrium the "instantaneous" atomic pressure is usually defined as

The pressure then is the ensemble average of the instantaneous pressure[1]

This pressure is the average pressure in the volume .

Equivalent Definition[edit]

It's worth noting that some articles and textbook [2] use a slightly different but equivalent version of the equation

where is the ith component of the vector oriented from the th atoms to the kth calculated via the difference

Both equation being strictly equivalent, the definition of the vector can still lead to confusion.

Inhomogeneous Systems[edit]

If the system is not homogeneous in a given volume the above (volume averaged) pressure is not a good measure for the pressure. In inhomogeneous systems the pressure depends on the position and orientation of the surface on which the pressure acts. Therefore in inhomogeneous systems a definition of a local pressure is needed[3]. As a general example for a system with inhomogeneous pressure you can think of the pressure in the atmosphere of the earth which varies with height.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Allen, MP; Tildesley, DJ (1991). Clarendon Press, ed. Computer Simulations of Liquids. Oxford. pp. 46–50. 
  2. ^ Allen, MP; Tildesley, DJ (1991). Clarendon Press, ed. Computer Simulations of Liquids. Oxford. pp. 46–50. 
  3. ^ Numerical Simulations of a Smectic Lamellar Phase of Amphiphilic Molecules, p. 40,

External links[edit]