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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jan 18;108(3):944-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1006670108. Epub 2011 Jan 3.

Simulation of surface processes.

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Faculty of Science and Science Institute, University of Iceland, 107 Reykjavík, Iceland.


Computer simulations of surface processes can reveal unexpected insight regarding atomic-scale structure and transitions. Here, the strengths and weaknesses of some commonly used approaches are reviewed as well as promising avenues for improvements. The electronic degrees of freedom are usually described by gradient-dependent functionals within Kohn-Sham density functional theory. Although this level of theory has been remarkably successful in numerous studies, several important problems require a more accurate theoretical description. It is important to develop new tools to make it possible to study, for example, localized defect states and band gaps in large and complex systems. Preliminary results presented here show that orbital density-dependent functionals provide a promising avenue, but they require the development of new numerical methods and substantial changes to codes designed for Kohn-Sham density functional theory. The nuclear degrees of freedom can, in most cases, be described by the classical equations of motion; however, they still pose a significant challenge, because the time scale of interesting transitions, which typically involve substantial free energy barriers, is much longer than the time scale of vibrations--often 10 orders of magnitude. Therefore, simulation of diffusion, structural annealing, and chemical reactions cannot be achieved with direct simulation of the classical dynamics. Alternative approaches are needed. One such approach is transition state theory as implemented in the adaptive kinetic Monte Carlo algorithm, which, thus far, has relied on the harmonic approximation but could be extended and made applicable to systems with rougher energy landscape and transitions through quantum mechanical tunneling.

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