Theoretical and Computational Chemistry

How Accurate is Density Functional Theory for Molecules in Electric Fields?



The use of oriented external electric fields (OEEFs) as a potential tool for catalyzing chemical reactions has gained traction in recent years. Electronic structure calculations using OEEFs are commonly done using methods based on density functional theory (DFT), but until now, the performance of DFT methods for calculating molecules in OEEFs had not been assessed in a more general scope. Looking at the accuracy of both molecular geometries and electronic energies, we have investigated a wide variety of density functionals using different basis sets to determine how well the individual functionals perform on various types of chemical bonds. We found that most functionals accurately calculate geometries in OEEFs, and that small basis sets are sufficient in many cases. Calculations of electronic energies show a significant error introduced by the OEEF, which the use of a larger basis set helps mitigate. Our findings show that DFT methods can be used for accurate calculations in OEEFs, allowing researchers to make full use of the advantages that they bring.

Version notes

Minor changes to the size of plots have been made. An ambiguity in the references has been resolved.


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Supplementary material

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Supporting Information
Additional calculations showing performance using the cc‑pVTZ basis set and performance comparisons between various electronic structure methods