Accurate Quantum-Mechanically Derived Force-Fields through a Fragment- Based Approach: Balancing Specificity and Transferability in the Prediction of Self-Assembly in Soft Matter

LG da Silveira and PR Livotto and D Padula and JG Vilhena and G Prampolini, JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL THEORY AND COMPUTATION, 18, 6905-6919 (2022).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.jctc.2c00747

The wide range of time/length scales covered by self-assembly in soft matter makes molecular dynamics (MD) the ideal candidate for simulating such a supramolecular phenomenon at an atomistic level. However, the reliability of MD outcomes heavily relies on the accuracy of the adopted force-field (FF). The spontaneous re-ordering in liquid crystalline materials stands as a clear example of such collective self assembling processes, driven by a subtle and delicate balance between supramolecular interactions and single-molecule flexibility. General- purpose transferable FFs often dramatically fail to reproduce such complex phenomena, for example, the error on the transition temperatures being larger than 100 K. Conversely, quantum-mechanically derived force- fields (QMD-FFs), specifically tailored for the target system, were recently shown (J. Phys. Chem. Lett.2022,13, 243) to allow for the required accuracy as they not only well reproduced transition temperatures but also yielded a quantitative agreement with the experiment on a wealth of structural, dynamic, and thermodynamic properties. The main drawback of this strategy stands in the computational burden connected to the numerous quantum mechanical (QM) calculations usually required for a target-specific parameterization, which has undoubtedly hampered the routine application of QMD-FFs. In this work, we propose a fragment-based strategy to extend the applicability of QMD-FFs, in which the amount of QM calculations is significantly reduced, being a single-molecule-optimized geometry and its Hessian matrix the only QM information required. To validate this route, a new FF is assembled for a large mesogen, exploiting the parameters obtained for two smaller liquid crystalline molecules, in this and previous work. Lengthy MD simulations are carried out with the new transferred QMD-FF, observing again a spontaneous re-orientation in the correct range of temperatures, with good agreement with the available experimental measures. The present results strongly suggest that a partial transfer of QMD-FF parameters can be invoked without a significant loss of accuracy, thus paving the way to exploit the method's intrinsic predictive capabilities in the simulation of novel soft materials.

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