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J Chem Phys. 2007 Apr 21;126(15):154109.

Tests of functionals for systems with fractional electron number.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, Rice University, Houston, TX 77005, USA.


In the exact theory, the ground state energy of an open system varies linearly when the electron number is changed between two adjacent integers. This linear dependence is not reproduced by common approximate density functionals. Deviation from linearity in this dependence has been suggested as a basis for the concept of many-electron self-interaction error (SIE). In this paper, we quantify many-electron SIE of a number of approximations by performing calculations on fractionally charged atoms. We demonstrate the direct relevance of these studies to such problems of common approximate functionals as instabilities of anions, spurious fractional charges on dissociated atoms, and poor description of charge transfer. Semilocal approximations have the largest many-electron SIE, which is only slightly reduced in typical global hybrids. In these approximations the energy versus fractional electron number curves upward, while in Hartree-Fock theory the energy curves downward. Perdew-Zunger self-interaction correction [Phys. Rev. B 23, 5048 (1981)] significantly reduces the many-electron SIE of semilocal functionals but impairs their accuracy for equilibrium properties. In contrast, a long-range corrected hybrid functional can be nearly many-electron SIE-free in many cases (for reasons we discuss) and at the same time performs remarkably well for many molecular properties.

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