A stochastic process is metastable if it stays for a very long period of time in a region of the phase space (called a metastable region) before going to another metastable region, where it again remains trapped. Such processes naturally appear in many applications, metastability being related to a two time scale mechanism: the small time scale corresponds to the vibration period within the metastable regions and the large time scale is associated with the transitions between metastable states. For example, in molecular dynamics, the metastable regions are typically associated with the atomic conformations of a molecule (or an ensemble of molecules), and one is actually interested in simulating and studying the transitions between these conformations.
In this talk, I will explain how the exit events from a metastable state can be studied using an eigenvalue problem for a differential operator. This point of view is useful to build very efficient algorithms to simulate metastable stochastic processes (using in particular parallel architectures). It also gives a new way to prove the Eyring-Kramers laws and to justify the parametrization of an underlying Markov chain (Markov state model), using techniques form semiclassical analysis.