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Quantum chemistry

Quantum chemistry, also called molecular quantum mechanics, is a branch of chemistry focused on the application of quantum mechanics in physical models and experiments of chemical systems. Understanding electronic structure and molecular dynamics using the Schrodinger equations are central topics in quantum chemistry.

Theoretical quantum chemistry, the workings of which also tend to fall under the category of computational chemistry, seeks to calculate the predictions of quantum theory as atoms and molecules can only have discrete energies.

On the calculations, quantum chemical studies use also semi-empirical and other methods based on quantum mechanical principles, and deal with time dependent problems. Many quantum chemical studies assume the nuclei are at rest (Born¥Oppenheimer approximation). Many calculations involve iterative methods that include self-consistent field methods. Major goals of quantum chemistry include increasing the accuracy of the results for small molecular systems, and increasing the size of large molecules that can be processed, which is limited by scaling considerations´the computation time increases as a power of the number of atoms.

Some view the birth of quantum chemistry as starting with the discovery of the Schrodinger equation and its application to the hydrogen atom in 1926. However, the 1927 article of Walter Heitler (1904–1981) and Fritz London, is often recognized as the first milestone in the history of quantum chemistry. This is the first application of quantum mechanics to the diatomic hydrogen molecule, and thus to the phenomenon of the chemical bond. In the following years much progress was accomplished by Robert S. Mulliken, Max Born, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Linus Pauling, Erich Huckel, Douglas Hartree, Vladimir Fock, to cite a few. The history of quantum chemistry also goes through the 1838 discovery of cathode rays by Michael Faraday, the 1859 statement of the black-body radiation problem by Gustav Kirchhoff, the 1877 suggestion by Ludwig Boltzmann that the energy states of a physical system could be discrete, and the 1900 quantum hypothesis by Max Planck that any energy radiating atomic system can theoretically be divided into a number of discrete energy elements - such that each of these energy elements is proportional to the frequency - with which they each individually radiate energy and a numerical value called Planck's constant. Then, in 1905, to explain the photoelectric effect (1839), i.e., that shining light on certain materials can function to eject electrons from the material, Albert Einstein postulated, based on Planck's quantum hypothesis, that light itself consists of individual quantum particles, which later came to be called photons (1926). In the years to follow, this theoretical basis slowly began to be applied to chemical structure, reactivity, and bonding. Probably the greatest contribution to the field was made by Linus Pauling.

An alternative approach was developed in 1929 by Friedrich Hund and Robert S. Mulliken, in which electrons are described by mathematical functions delocalized over an entire molecule. The Hund-Mulliken approach or molecular orbital (MO) method is less intuitive to chemists, but has turned out capable of predicting spectroscopic properties better than the VB method. This approach is the conceptional basis of the Hartree¥Fock method and further post Hartree-Fock methods.

In adiabatic dynamics, interatomic interactions are represented by single scalar potentials called potential energy surfaces. This is the Born¥Oppenheimer approximation introduced by Born and Oppenheimer in 1927. Pioneering applications of this in chemistry were performed by Rice and Ramsperger in 1927 and Kassel in 1928, and generalized into the RRKM theory in 1952 by Marcus who took the transition state theory developed by Eyring in 1935 into account. These methods enable simple estimates of unimolecular reaction rates from a few characteristics of the potential surface.

Non-adiabatic dynamics consists of taking the interaction between several coupled potential energy surface (corresponding to different electronic quantum states of the molecule). The coupling terms are called vibronic couplings. The pioneering work in this field was done by Stueckelberg, Landau, and Zener in the 1930s, in their work on what is now known as the Landau–Zener transition. Their formula allows the transition probability between two diabatic potential curves in the neighborhood of an avoided crossing to be calculated. Spin-forbidden reactions are one type of non-adiabatic reactions where at least one change in spin state occurs when progressing from reactant to product.