The many-body expansion lies at the heart of numerous fragment-based methods that are intended to sidestep the nonlinear scaling of ab initio quantum chemistry, making electronic structure calculations feasible in large systems. In principle, inclusion of higher-order n-body terms ought to improve the accuracy in a controllable way, but unfavorable combinatorics often defeats this in practice and applications with n >= 4 are rare. Here, we outline an algorithm to overcome this combinatorial bottleneck, based on a bottom-up approach to energy-based screening. This is implemented within a new open-source software application ("Fragment"), which is integrated with a lightweight semi-empirical method that is used to cull subsystems, attenuating the combinatorial growth of higher-order terms in the graph that is used to manage the calculations. This facilitates applications of unprecedented size and we report four-body calculations in (H2O)64 clusters that afford relative energies within 0.1 kcal/mol/monomer of the supersystem result, using less than 10% of the unique subsystems. We also report n-body calculations in (H2O)20 clusters up to n = 8, at which point the expansion terminates naturally due to screening. These are the largest n-body calculations reported to date, and they confirm that high-order n-body terms are mostly artifacts of basis-set superposition error.
Coordinates of all test systems