How Good Are Polarizable and Flexible Models for Water: Insights from a Many-Body Perspective
We present a systematic analysis of state-of-the-art polarizable and flexible water models from a many-body perspective, with a specific focus on their ability to represent the Born-Oppenheimer potential energy surface of water, from the gas to the liquid phase. Using coupled cluster data in the completed basis set limit as a reference, we examine the accuracy of the polarizable models in reproducing individual many-body contributions to interaction energies and harmonic frequencies of water clusters, and compare their performance with that of MB-pol, an explicit many-body model that has been shown to correctly predict the properties of water across the entire phase diagram. Based on these comparisons, we use MB-pol as a reference to analyze the ability of the polarizable models to reproduce the energy landscape of liquid water at ambient conditions. We find that, while correctly reproducing the energetics of minimum-energy structures, the polarizable models examined in this study suffer from inadequate representations of many-body effects for distorted configurations. To investigate the role played by geometry-dependent representations of 1-body charge distributions in reproducing coupled cluster data for both interaction and many-body energies, we introduce a simplified version of MB-pol that adopts fixed atomic charges and demonstrate that the new model retains the same accuracy as the original MB-pol model. Based on the analyses presented in this study, we believe that future developments of both polarizable and explicit many-body models should continue in parallel and would benefit from synergistic efforts aimed at integrating the best aspects of the two theoretical/computational frameworks.