CECAM workshop on:

Reactive classical potentials versus hybrid methods:
toward chemical complexity

Scientific background


Current ab initio methods, although very accurate and general, are computationally extremely demanding. Their application is thus restricted to relatively small systems and short simulation times. On the other hand, the use of classical force fields allow the dynamical simulation of millions of atoms, which makes them applicable to the study of a wide variety of physical processes (e.g., shockwaves,
dislocation dynamics, fracture, oxidation) which require larger system sizes and longer simulation times. However, force fields are notoriously difficult to develop and their accuracy must be established for each application.

A main current challenge is to develop methodologies that retain the accuracy of quantum mechanics (QM) while allowing large-scale
simulations. Current approaches to bridge from electronic structure to atomistics can be categorized in two groups, described in the next sections.

Reactive Force Fields


In general, the total energy of an atomistic system is written as the sum of three terms, Eelec, Eval, and
EvdW, where Eelec denotes electrostatic interactions, Eval denotes valence interactions (bonds, angles, torsions,
etc.), and EvdW denotes van der Waals interactions (short range repulsion and longer range attraction).
In order to describe chemical reactions and atomic interactions in a changing chemical environment, most reactive force fields are based on one (or both) of two main concepts:


These variable charges and partial bond orders are the key concepts that allow a classical description of chemical reactions,
dramatically improving the transferability of interatomic potentials (e.g. retaining the same description for oxygen atoms
in O2, H2O and Al2O3). Concerning the derivation of the partial bond orders, reactive force fields can be categorized into two main groups:


The two existing models of the latter class of reactive force fields are the REBO potential (and its further developments,
AIREBO) and the quantum-based force field denoted ReaxFF. Both models were originally developed for hydrocarbons, but now
include (or will include soon) the extension to other systems (nitrogen, oxides, and metals). In order to gain accuracy on the
description of chemical reactions, these force fields have to be fitted on a large variety of QM calculations including bond
dissociation curves, angular and torsional bending, and the decomposition mechanisms of various molecules. To enable this without
unnecessary duplication of effort, the 2002 CECAM/SIMU workshop community developed the idea of building a web site hosted by CECAM (currently under development) for such interatomic potential training sets.


Embedding schemes

Another general approach for ``bridging the length scale gap'' between the quantum and the classical world is based on embedding
strategies in which the accuracy of the description is not uniform throughout the investigated system.

In the standard embedding approach the system subregion where high accuracy is needed is described by a QM Hamiltonian,
and is surrounded by (``embedded'' in) a larger zone treated by classical interatomic potentials. In some applications, a third
level of description (e.g., a finite element description) is used to include another external comtinuum region [9]. The system
is thus divided into different parts associated to different models (levels of sophistication), and the main difficulties are
encountered in matching different models at the boundary regions. For instance, the so-called QM/MM (Quantum Mechanics/ Molecular Mechanics) methods find their applications in various fields, including biophysics and biochemistry, where the chemically
interesting parts are treated with {\it ab initio} techniques, while the surrounding regions are treated by empirical potentials.
Although allowing for ``large-scale'' simulations (several thousand atoms treated classically, plus typically a hundred
treated by QM), these methods have about the same time limitations of the pure ab initio methods when applied on small system
sizes. This could become a problem when the reaction time of the chemical processes of interest is much longer than the feasible simulation time. In these cases, it is necessary to develop special techniques for sampling rare events [5]. Another important open
problem in these concurrent simulations is how to choose the regions to be treated by different models, and in particular how these regions should evolve during the course of the dynamics.

In a different spirit the LOTF (Learn On The Fly) technique uses a unique (parametrized, classical) Hamiltonian to
describe the atomic interactions.  However, when needed, the interatomic potential parameters associated to the ``chemically
active'' atoms (e.g. atoms in a crack tip) are allowed to vary during the simulation to better describe their changing environments [6]. The continuously adjusted parameters, which have a local meaning, can be obtained by ``learning'' from QM
calculations carried out ``on the fly'' on restricted sets of atoms relevant to the local chemical processes observed during the
simulation, using e.g. a force matching technique. With this procedure, an arbitrarily accurate description of the dynamical
evolution of a system can be achieved, computing QM information only when/where needed (time embedding is thus introduced, on the top of the more standard space embedding). While fitting the parameters ``on the fly'' introduces some extra complication in the
algorithm, the use of a unique Hamiltonian effectively removes matching problems in the boundary regions.  This method is
similar in some respects to another approach based on classical potentials, the Optimal Potential method developed by A. Laio and
S. Bernard [7] for metals, in which accuracy is given the priority over transferability. Here the interaction potential is
characterized by an enlarged set of parameters (not resolved in space) which are fitted on first principles calculations on the
entire system. As the first principles calculations can be substantially separated in time, the time limitations of this method are essentially those of a classical approach.

Most of these hybrid length-scale methods encounter problems concerning the conservation of energy, since the Hamiltonian is
changed during the simulation when boundary regions move or potential parameters are changed, and none address the equally
important time-scale problems [5]. An original alternative in this direction, coupling  in time and using parallel computers (the ``parareal'' method), has been introduced by G. Zerah [8]. The basic idea of this method is that a high accuracy dynamical trajectory (e.g. ab initio MD) can be obtained in a computationally efficient way starting from an approximate trajectory (e.g. using an empirical
potential) and making a series of iterative corrections that require independent dynamical runs using the high-accuracy method
but for times much smaller than the total simulation time. If these corrections are made in parallel, the target accurate
trajectory can be obtained in significantly less wall-clock time (but more CPU time) than a complete high-accuracy dynamical run
would require. One mathematical property of the relevant equations is that the convergence of this process is guaranteed.
Multi-scale modeling in material science is a natural application of such a method (where the fine and coarse grain propagators are
ab initio and classical descriptions respectively). This method is currently being developed and a wide range of applications is envisaged.

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