Physical Chemistry

Structure of an ultrathin oxide film solved by machine learning enhanced global optimization



Determination of the atomic structure of solid surfaces is a challenge that has resisted solution despite advancements in experimental methods. Theory-based global optimization has the potential to revolutionize the field by providing reliable structure models as the basis for interpretation of experiments and for prediction of material properties. So far, however, the approach has been limited by the combinatorial complexity and computational expense of sufficiently accurate energy estimation for surfaces. We demonstrate how an evolutionary algorithm, utilizing machine learning for accelerated energy estimation and diverse population generation, can be used to solve an unknown surface structure—the (4 x 4) surface oxide on Pt3Sn(111)--based on limited experimental input. The algorithm is efficient and robust, and should be broadly applicable in surface studies, where it can replace manual, intuition based model generation.


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Supplementary material

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Supplementary information
Methods, Figs S1 to S3, Table S1