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Computational chemistry is a branch of chemistry that uses computer simulation to assist in solving chemical problems. It uses methods of theoretical chemistry, incorporated into efficient computer programs, to calculate the structures and properties of molecules and solids. It is necessary because, apart from relatively recent results concerning the hydrogen molecular ion (dihydrogen cation, see references therein for more details), the quantum many-body problem cannot be solved analytically, much less in closed form. While computational results normally complement the information obtained by chemical experiments, it can in some cases predict hitherto unobserved chemical phenomena. It is widely used in the design of new drugs and materials. Computational chemistry is a branch of chemistry that uses computer simulation to assist in solving chemical problems. It uses methods of theoretical chemistry, incorporated into efficient computer programs, to calculate the structures and properties of molecules and solids. It is necessary because, apart from relatively recent results concerning the hydrogen molecular ion (dihydrogen cation, see references therein for more details), the quantum many-body problem cannot be solved analytically, much less in closed form. While computational results normally complement the information obtained by chemical experiments, it can in some cases predict hitherto unobserved chemical phenomena. It is widely used in the design of new drugs and materials. Examples of such properties are structure (i.e., the expected positions of the constituent atoms), absolute and relative (interaction) energies, electronic charge density distributions, dipoles and higher multipole moments, vibrational frequencies, reactivity, or other spectroscopic quantities, and cross sections for collision with other particles. The methods used cover both static and dynamic situations. In all cases, the computer time and other resources (such as memory and disk space) increase rapidly with the size of the system being studied. That system can be one molecule, a group of molecules, or a solid. Computational chemistry methods range from very approximate to highly accurate; the latter are usually feasible for small systems only. Ab initio methods are based entirely on quantum mechanics and basic physical constants. Other methods are called empirical or semi-empirical because they use additional empirical parameters. Both ab initio and semi-empirical approaches involve approximations. These range from simplified forms of the first-principles equations that are easier or faster to solve, to approximations limiting the size of the system (for example, periodic boundary conditions), to fundamental approximations to the underlying equations that are required to achieve any solution to them at all. For example, most ab initio calculations make the Born–Oppenheimer approximation, which greatly simplifies the underlying Schrödinger equation by assuming that the nuclei remain in place during the calculation. In principle, ab initio methods eventually converge to the exact solution of the underlying equations as the number of approximations is reduced. In practice, however, it is impossible to eliminate all approximations, and residual error inevitably remains. The goal of computational chemistry is to minimize this residual error while keeping the calculations tractable. In some cases, the details of electronic structure are less important than the long-time phase space behavior of molecules. This is the case in conformational studies of proteins and protein-ligand binding thermodynamics. Classical approximations to the potential energy surface are used, as they are computationally less intensive than electronic calculations, to enable longer simulations of molecular dynamics. Furthermore, cheminformatics uses even more empirical (and computationally cheaper) methods like machine learning based on physicochemical properties. One typical problem in cheminformatics is to predict the binding affinity of drug molecules to a given target. Building on the founding discoveries and theories in the history of quantum mechanics, the first theoretical calculations in chemistry were those of Walter Heitler and Fritz London in 1927. The books that were influential in the early development of computational quantum chemistry include Linus Pauling and E. Bright Wilson's 1935 Introduction to Quantum Mechanics – with Applications to Chemistry, Eyring, Walter and Kimball's 1944 Quantum Chemistry, Heitler's 1945 Elementary Wave Mechanics – with Applications to Quantum Chemistry, and later Coulson's 1952 textbook Valence, each of which served as primary references for chemists in the decades to follow. With the development of efficient computer technology in the 1940s, the solutions of elaborate wave equations for complex atomic systems began to be a realizable objective. In the early 1950s, the first semi-empirical atomic orbital calculations were performed. Theoretical chemists became extensive users of the early digital computers. One major advance came with the 1951 paper in Reviews of Modern Physics by Clemens C. J. Roothaan in 1951, largely on the 'LCAO MO' approach (Linear Combination of Atomic Orbitals Molecular Orbitals), for many years the second-most cited paper in that journal. A very detailed account of such use in the United Kingdom is given by Smith and Sutcliffe. The first ab initio Hartree–Fock method calculations on diatomic molecules were performed in 1956 at MIT, using a basis set of Slater orbitals. For diatomic molecules, a systematic study using a minimum basis set and the first calculation with a larger basis set were published by Ransil and Nesbet respectively in 1960. The first polyatomic calculations using Gaussian orbitals were performed in the late 1950s. The first configuration interaction calculations were performed in Cambridge on the EDSAC computer in the 1950s using Gaussian orbitals by Boys and coworkers. By 1971, when a bibliography of ab initio calculations was published, the largest molecules included were naphthalene and azulene. Abstracts of many earlier developments in ab initio theory have been published by Schaefer. In 1964, Hückel method calculations (using a simple linear combination of atomic orbitals (LCAO) method to determine electron energies of molecular orbitals of π electrons in conjugated hydrocarbon systems) of molecules, ranging in complexity from butadiene and benzene to ovalene, were generated on computers at Berkeley and Oxford. These empirical methods were replaced in the 1960s by semi-empirical methods such as CNDO. In the early 1970s, efficient ab initio computer programs such as ATMOL, Gaussian, IBMOL, and POLYAYTOM, began to be used to speed ab initio calculations of molecular orbitals. Of these four programs, only Gaussian, now vastly expanded, is still in use, but many other programs are now in use. At the same time, the methods of molecular mechanics, such as MM2 force field, were developed, primarily by Norman Allinger.

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