Problems, successes and challenges for the application of dispersion-corrected density-functional theory combined with dispersion-based implicit solvent models to large-scale hydrophobic self-assembly and polymorphism

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Molecular Simulation, 2016, 42 (6-7), pp. 494 - 510
Issue Date:
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© 2015 Taylor & Francis. The recent advent of dispersion-corrected density-functional theory (DFT) methods allows for quantitative modelling of molecular self-assembly processes, and we consider what is required to develop applications to the formation of large self-assembled monolayers (SAMs) on hydrophobic surfaces from organic solution. Focus is on application of the D3 dispersion correction of Grimme combined with the solvent dispersion model of Floris, Tomasi and Pascual-Ahuir to simulate observed scanning-tunnelling microscopy (STM) images of various polymorphs of tetraalkylporphyrin SAMs on highly oriented pyrolytic graphite surfaces. The most significant problem is identified as the need to treat SAM structures that are incommensurate with those of the substrate, providing a challenge to the use of traditional periodic-imaging boundary techniques. Using nearby commensurate lattices introduces non-systematic errors into calculated lattice constants and free energies of SAM formation that are larger than experimental uncertainties and polymorph differences. Developing non-periodic methods for polymorph interface simulation also remains a challenge. Despite these problems, existing methods can be used to interpret STM images and SAM atomic structures, distinguishing between multiple feasible polymorph types. They also provide critical insight into the factors controlling polymorphism. All this stems from a delicate balance that the intermolecular D3 and solvent Floris, Tomasi and Pascual-Ahuir corrections provide. Combined optimised treatments should yield fully quantitative approaches in the future.
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