The finite element approximation of the nonlinear Poisson-Boltzmann equation

Long Chen, Michael J. Holst, Jinchao Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

127 Scopus citations


A widely used electrostatics model in the biomolecular modeling community, the nonlinear Poisson-Boltzmann equation, along with its finite element approximation, are analyzed in this paper. A regularized Poisson-Boltzmann equation is introduced as an auxiliary problem, making it possible to study the original nonlinear equation with delta distribution sources. A priori error estimates for the finite element approximation are obtained for the regularized Poisson-Boltzmann equation based on certain quasi-uniform grids in two and three dimensions. Adaptive finite element approximation through local refinement driven by an a posteriori error estimate is shown to converge. The Poisson-Boltzmann equation does not appear to have been previously studied in detail theoretically, and it is hoped that this paper will help provide molecular modelers with a better foundation for their analytical and computational work with the Poisson-Boltzmann equation. Note that this article apparently gives the first rigorous convergence result for a numerical discretization technique for the nonlinear Poisson-Boltzmann equation with delta distribution sources, and it also introduces the first provably convergent adaptive method for the equation. This last result is currently one of only a handful of existing convergence results of this type for nonlinear problems. © 2007 Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2298-2320
Number of pages23
JournalSIAM Journal on Numerical Analysis
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2007
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Generated from Scopus record by KAUST IRTS on 2023-02-15

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Numerical Analysis


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