Progress in visualizing atomic size effects with DFT-chemical pressure analysis: From isolated atoms to trends in AB5 intermetallics

Veronica M. Berns, Joshua Engelkemier, Yiming Guo, Brandon J. Kilduff, Daniel C. Fredrickson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


The notion of atomic size poses an important challenge to chemical theory: empirical evidence has long established that atoms have spatial requirements, which are summarized in tables of covalent, ionic, metallic, and van der Waals radii. Considerations based on these radii play a central role in the design and interpretation of experiments, but few methods are available to directly support arguments based on atomic size using electronic structure methods. Recently, we described an approach to elucidating atomic size effects using theoretical calculations: the DFT-Chemical Pressure analysis, which visualizes the local pressures arising in crystal structures from the interactions of atomic size and electronic effects. Using this approach, a variety of structural phenomena in intermetallic phases have already been understood in terms that provide guidance to new synthetic experiments. However, the applicability of the DFT-CP method to the broad range of the structures encountered in the solid state is limited by two issues: (1) the difficulty of interpreting the intense pressure features that appear in atomic core regions and (2) the need to divide space among pairs of interacting atoms in a meaningful way. In this article, we describe general solutions to these issues. In addressing the first issue, we explore the CP analysis of a test case in which no core pressures would be expected to arise: isolated atoms in large boxes. Our calculations reveal that intense core pressures do indeed arise in these virtually pressure-less model systems and allow us to trace the issue to the shifts in the voxel positions relative to atomic centers upon expanding and contracting the unit cell. A compensatory grid unwarping procedure is introduced to remedy this artifact. The second issue revolves around the difficulty of interpreting the pressure map in terms of interatomic interactions in a way that respects the size differences of the atoms and avoids artificial geometrical constraints. In approaching this challenge, we have developed a scheme for allocating the grid pressures to contacts inspired by the Hirshfeld charge analysis. Here, each voxel is allocated to the contact between the two atoms whose free atom electron densities show the largest values at that position. In this way, the differing sizes of atoms are naturally included in the division of space without resorting to empirical radii. The use of the improved DFT-CP method is illustrated through analyses of the applicability of radius ratio arguments to Laves phase structures and the structural preferences of AB5 intermetallics between the CaCu5 and AuBe5 structure types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3380-3392
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Chemical Theory and Computation
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 12 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry


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