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Exponential Fit with Python

Fitting an exponential curve to data is a common task and in this example we'll use Python and SciPy to determine parameters for a curve fitted to arbitrary X/Y points. You can follow along using the fit.ipynb Jupyter notebook.

import numpy as np
import scipy.optimize
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

xs = np.arange(12) + 7
ys = np.array([304.08994, 229.13878, 173.71886, 135.75499,
               111.096794, 94.25109, 81.55578, 71.30187, 
               62.146603, 54.212032, 49.20715, 46.765743])

plt.plot(xs, ys, '.')
plt.title("Original Data")

To fit an arbitrary curve we must first define it as a function. We can then call scipy.optimize.curve_fit which will tweak the arguments (using arguments we provide as the starting parameters) to best fit the data. In this example we will use a single exponential decay function.

def monoExp(x, m, t, b):
    return m * np.exp(-t * x) + b

In biology / electrophysiology biexponential functions are often used to separate fast and slow components of exponential decay which may be caused by different mechanisms and occur at different rates. In this example we will only fit the data to a method with a exponential component (a monoexponential function), but the idea is the same.

# perform the fit
p0 = (2000, .1, 50) # start with values near those we expect
params, cv = scipy.optimize.curve_fit(monoExp, xs, ys, p0)
m, t, b = params
sampleRate = 20_000 # Hz
tauSec = (1 / t) / sampleRate

# plot the results
plt.plot(xs, ys, '.', label="data")
plt.plot(xs, monoExp(xs, m, t, b), '--', label="fitted")
plt.title("Fitted Exponential Curve")

# inspect the parameters
print(f"Y = {m} * e^(-{t} * x) + {b}")
print(f"Tau = {tauSec * 1e6} µs")

Y = 2666.499 * e^(-0.332 * x) + 42.494
Tau = 150.422 µs

Extrapolating the Fitted Curve

We can use the calculated parameters to extend this curve to any position by passing X values of interest into the function we used during the fit.

The value at time 0 is simply m + b because the exponential component becomes e^(0) which is 1.

xs2 = np.arange(25)
ys2 = monoExp(xs2, m, t, b)

plt.plot(xs, ys, '.', label="data")
plt.plot(xs2, ys2, '--', label="fitted")
plt.title("Extrapolated Exponential Curve")

Constraining the Infinite Decay Value

What if we know our data decays to 0? It's not best to fit to an exponential decay function that lets the b component be whatever it wants. Indeed, our fit from earlier calculated the ideal b to be 42.494 but what if we know it should be 0? The solution is to fit using an exponential function where b is constrained to 0 (or whatever value you know it to be).

def monoExpZeroB(x, m, t):
    return m * np.exp(-t * x)

# perform the fit using the function where B is 0
p0 = (2000, .1) # start with values near those we expect
paramsB, cv = scipy.optimize.curve_fit(monoExpZeroB, xs, ys, p0)
mB, tB = paramsB
sampleRate = 20_000 # Hz
tauSec = (1 / tB) / sampleRate

# inspect the results
print(f"Y = {mB} * e^(-{tB} * x)")
print(f"Tau = {tauSec * 1e6} µs")

# compare this curve to the original
ys2B = monoExpZeroB(xs2, mB, tB)
plt.plot(xs, ys, '.', label="data")
plt.plot(xs2, ys2, '--', label="fitted")
plt.plot(xs2, ys2B, '--', label="zero B")
Y = 1245.580 * e^(-0.210 * x)
Tau = 237.711 µs

The curves produced are very different at the extremes (especially when time is 0), even though they appear to both fit the data points nicely. Which curve is more accurate? That depends on your application. A hint can be gained by inspecting the time constants of these two curves.

Parameter Fitted B Fixed B
m 2666.499 1245.580
t 0.332 0.210
Tau 150.422 µs 237.711 µs
b 42.494 0

By inspecting Tau I can gain insight into which method may be better for me to use in my application. I expect Tau to be near 250 µs, leading me to trust the fixed-B method over the fitted B method. Choosing the correct method has great implications on the value of m (which is also the value of the curve when time is 0).

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