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Chem Sci. 2017 Jun 1;8(6):4203-4210. doi: 10.1039/c7sc01181d. Epub 2017 Apr 19.

Chemistry with semi-classical electrons: reaction trajectories auto-generated by sub-atomistic force fields.

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Department of Chemistry , Brandeis University , Waltham , MA 02454 , USA . Email:


For a century now, "Lewis dots" have been a mainstay of chemical thinking, teaching and communication. However, chemists have assumed that this semi-classical picture of electrons needs to be abandoned for quantitative work, and the recourse in computational simulations has been to the extremes of first principles treatments of electrons on the one hand and force fields that avoid explicit electrons on the other hand. Given both the successes and limitations of these highly divergent approaches, it seems worth considering whether the Lewis dot picture might be made quantitative after all. Here we review progress to that end, including variations that have been implemented and examples of applications, specifically the acid-base behavior of water, several organic reactions, and electron dynamics in silicon fracture. In each case, the semi-classical approach is highly efficient and generates reasonable and readily interpreted reaction trajectories in turnkey fashion (i.e., without any input about products). Avenues for further progress are also discussed.

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