# Why does FindFit seem to have trouble fitting exponential data?

I have 4 data points. t is in minutes, and y is radioactive counts per minute. When I input the following lines:

data = {{90., 140075.}, {120., 96018.}, {150., 73003.}, {180., 36980.}};
model = a*Exp[-k*t];
fit = FindFit[data, model, {a, k}, t]


the output given is:

{a -> 64.6435, k -> 0.29285}


This is clearly not correct. The parameter 'a' should be somewhere around 530000 (as per Excel's fitted equation). What's happening here, and how can I fix this? I'm surprised a bit. This is a simple exponential fit. What am I doing wrong?

• Try providing a reasonable initial guess: fit = FindFit[data, model, {{a, Last@Mean[data]}, {k, 1/First@Mean[data]}}, t]
– user484
Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 5:50

fit = FindFit[data, model, {a, k}, t, Method -> "NMinimize"]


You may be interested to know that we are working on a FindSimpleFit function that is intended to automate the finding of many common classes of curve, exponentials obviously included. This is similar to what Wolfram|Alpha Pro currently does when you upload a dataset that looks like a timeseries or scatterplot. Automation for the win!

As has been already commented you can specify Method or specify approximate parameter values as per Rahul Narain's comment.

You can also use NonlinearModelFit,e.g.:

nlm=NonlinearModelFit[data, {a Exp[- k t]}, {{a, 53000}, {k, 1/100}}, t]


yields :448761. E^(-0.0128453 t)

Visualizing fit:

Plot[nlm[t], {t, 80, 200},
Epilog -> {Red, PointSize[0.02], Point[data]}, PlotRange -> All]


For this specific problem you could transform data and use LinearModelFit and back transform.

tdata = {#1, Log@#2} & @@@ data
lm = LinearModelFit[tdata, {1, t}, t]
btf = Exp[Normal@lm]
{Exp[#1], #2} & @@ lm["BestFitParameters"]


The last expression yielding back transformed parameters: {530142., -0.0142315}

Plot[btf, {t, 90, 200}, Epilog -> {Red, PointSize[0.02], Point[data]},
PlotRange -> All, AxesOrigin -> {90, 19000}]


There are a lot of related (perhaps duplicate) questions that provide valuable information. I suggest looking at them also.

• Is the only difference between FindFit and NonlinearModelFit the fact that the latter provides more statistical information, or is there anything deeper than that?
– user484
Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 6:53
• @RahulNarain I do not know the answer to the specific question. I frequently use NonlinearModelFit to look at quantification of model fit, reasonableness of assumptions, look for systematic error in residuals...as well as the "glorious p-values"...there seems to be a lot of intersection...both seems to accept methods... Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 7:40
• @RahulNarain I believe that FindFit minimizes, e.g. the least squares error, whereas NonlinearModelFit maximizes the value of the parameter values with respect to a likelihood function. Commented Jul 12, 2014 at 14:18