Category Archives: Computational Chemistry

NIST CCCBDB – Vibrational Scaling Factors & ThermoChem Data

The Computational Chemistry Comparison and Benchmark DataBase (CCCBDB) from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) collects experimental and calculated thermochemistry—related values for 1968 common molecules, constituting a vast source of benchmarks for various kinds of calculations.

In particular, scaling factors for vibrational frequencies are very useful when calculating vibrational spectra. These scaling factors are arranged by levels of theory ranging from HF to MP2, DFT, and multireference methods. These scaling factors are obtained by least squares regression between experimental and calculated frequencies for a set of molecules at a given level of theory.

Aside from vibrational spectroscopy, a large number of structural and energetic properties can be found and estimated for small molecules. A quick formation enthalpy can be calculated from experimental data and then compared to the reported theoretical values at a large number of levels of theory. Moments of inertia, enthalpies, entropies, charges, frontier orbital gaps, and even some odd values or even calculations gone awry are pointed out for you to know if you’re dealing with a particularly problematic system. The CCCB Database includes tutorials and input/output files for performing these kinds of calculations around thermochemistry, making it also a valuable learning resource.

Every computational chemist should be aware of this site, particularly when collaborating with experimentalists or when carrying calculations trying to replicate experimental data. The vastness of the site calls for a long dive to explore their possibilities and capabilities for more accurate calculations.

Natural Transition Orbitals (NTOs) Gaussian

The canonical molecular orbital depiction of an electronic transition is often a messy business in terms of a ‘chemical‘ interpretation of ‘which electrons‘ go from ‘which occupied orbitals‘ to ‘which virtual orbitals‘.

Natural Transition Orbitals provide a more intuitive picture of the orbitals, whether mixed or not, involved in any hole-particle excitation. This transformation is particularly useful when working with the excited states of molecules with extensively delocalized chromophores or multiple chromophoric sites. The elegance of the NTO method relies on its simplicity: separate unitary transformations are performed on the occupied and on the virtual set of orbitals in order to get a localized picture of the transition density matrix.

[1] R. L. Martin, J. Chem. Phys., 2003, DOI:10.1063/1.1558471.

In Gaussian09:
After running a TD-DFT calculation with the keyword TD(Nstates=n) (where n = number of states to be requested) we need to take that result and launch a new calculation for the NTOs but lets take it one step at a time. As an example here’s phenylalanine which was already optimized to a minimum at the B3LYP/6-31G(d,p) level of theory. If we take that geometry and launch a new calculation with the TD(Nstates=40) in the route section we obtain the UV-Vis spectra and the output looks like this (only the first three states are shown):

Excitation energies and oscillator strengths:

Excited State 1: Singlet-A 5.3875 eV 230.13 nm f=0.0015 <S**2>=0.000
42 -> 46 0.17123
42 -> 47 0.12277
43 -> 46 -0.40383
44 -> 45 0.50838
44 -> 47 0.11008
This state for optimization and/or second-order correction.
Total Energy, E(TD-HF/TD-KS) = -554.614073682
Copying the excited state density for this state as the 1-particle RhoCI density.

Excited State 2: Singlet-A 5.5137 eV 224.86 nm f=0.0138 <S**2>=0.000
41 -> 45 -0.20800
41 -> 47 0.24015
42 -> 45 0.32656
42 -> 46 0.10906
42 -> 47 -0.24401
43 -> 45 0.20598
43 -> 47 -0.14839
44 -> 45 -0.15344
44 -> 47 0.34182

Excited State 3: Singlet-A 5.9254 eV 209.24 nm f=0.0042 <S**2>=0.000
41 -> 45 0.11844
41 -> 47 -0.12539
42 -> 45 -0.10401
42 -> 47 0.16068
43 -> 45 -0.27532
43 -> 46 -0.11640
43 -> 47 0.16780
44 -> 45 -0.18555
44 -> 46 -0.29184
44 -> 47 0.43124

The oscillator strength is listed on each Excited State as “f” and it is a measure of the probability of that excitation to occur. If we look at the third one for this phenylalanine we see f=0.0042, a very low probability, but aside from that the following list shows what orbital transitions compose that excitation and with what energy, so the first line indicates a transition from orbital 41 (HOMO-3) to orbital 45 (LUMO); there are 10 such transitions composing that excitation, visualizing them all with canonical orbitals is not an intuitive picture, so lets try the NTO approach, we’re going to take excitation #10 for phenylalanine as an example just because it has a higher oscillation strength:

%chk=Excited State 10: Singlet-A 7.1048 eV 174.51 nm f=0.3651 <S**2>=0.000
41 -> 45 0.35347
41 -> 47 0.34685
42 -> 45 0.10215
42 -> 46 0.17248
42 -> 47 0.13523
43 -> 45 -0.26596
43 -> 47 -0.22995
44 -> 46 0.23277

Each set of NTOs for each transition must be calculated separately. First, copy you filename.chk file from the TD-DFT result to a new one and name it after the Nth state of interest as shown below (state 10 in this case). NOTE: In the route section, replace N with the number of the excitation of interest according to the results in filename.log. Run separately for each transition your interested in:


#p B3LYP/6-31G(d,p) Geom=AllCheck Guess=(Read,Only) Density=(Check,Transition=N) Pop=(Minimal,NTO,SaveNTO)

0 1
--blank line--

By requesting SaveNTO, the canonical orbitals in the state10.chk file are replaced with the NTOs for the 10th excitation, this makes it easier to plot since most visualizers just plot whatever set of orbitals they read in the chk file but if they find the canonical MOs then one would need to do some re-processing of them. This is much more straightforward.

Now we format our chk files into fchk with the formchk utility:

formchk -3 filename.chk filename.fchk
formchk -3 state10.chk state10.fchk

If we open filename.fchk (the file where the original TD-DFT calculation is located) with GaussView we can plot all orbitals involved in excited state number ten, those would be seven orbitals from 41 (HOMO-3) to 47 (LUMO+2) as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1. Canonical orbitals involved in the 10th excited state according to the TD-DFT calculation

If we now open state10.fchk we see that the numbers at the side of the orbitals are not their energy but their occupation number particular to this state of interest, so we only need to plot those with highest occupations, in our example those are orbitals 44 and 45 (HOMO and LUMO) which have occupations = 0.81186; you may include 43 and 46 (HOMO-1 and LUMO+1, respectively) for a much more complete description (occupations = 0.18223) but we’re still dealing with 4 orbitals instead of 7.

Figure 2. Natural Transition Orbitals for Phenylalanine. Orbital 44 (particle) and Orbital 45 (hole) exhibit the largest occupations for Excited State No. 10

The NTO transition 44 -> 45 is far easier to conceptualize than all the 10 combinations given in the canonical basis from the direct TD-DFT calculation. TD-DFT provides us with the correct transitions, NTOs just paint us a picture more readily available to the chemist mindset.

NOTE: for G09 revC and above, the %OldChk option is available, I haven’t personally tried it but using it to specify where the excitations are located and then write the NTOs of interest into a new chk file in the following way, thus eliminating the need of copying the original chk file for each state:


NTOs are based on the Natural Hybrid orbitals vision by Löwdin and others, and it is said to be so straightforward that it has been re-discovered from time to time. Be that as it may, the NTO visualization provides a much clearer vision of the excitations occurring during a TD calculation.

Thanks for reading, stay home and stay safe during these harsh days everyone. Please share, rate and comment this and other posts.

DFT Estimation of pKb Values – New Paper in JCIM

As a continuation of our previous work on estimating pKa values from DFT calculations for carboxylic acids, we now present the complementary pKb values for amino groups by the same method, and the coupling of both methodologies for predicting the isoelectric point -pI- values of amino acids as a proof of concept.

Analogously to our work on pKa, we now used the Minimum Surface Electrostatic Potentia, VS,min, as a descriptor of the availability of Nitrogen’s lone pair and correlated it with the experimental basicity of a large number of amines, separated into three groups: primary, secondary and tertiary amines.

Interestingly, the correlation coefficient between experimental and calculated pKb values decreases in the following order: primary (R2 = 0.9519) > secondary (R2 = 0.9112) > tertiary (R2 = 0.8172). This could be due to steric effects, the change in s-character of the lone pair or just plain old selection bias. Nevertheless, there is a good correlation between both values and the resulting equations can predict the pKb value of an amino group within less of a unit, which is very good for a statistical method that does not require the calculation of a full thermodynamic cycle.

We then took thirteen amino acids (those without titratable side chains) and calculated simultaneously VS,min and VS,max for the amino and the carboxyl group (this latter with the use of equation 2 from our previous work published in Molecules MDPI) and the arithmetical average of both gave us their corresponding pI values with an agreement of less than one unit.

This work is now available at the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling (DOI: 10.1021/acs.jcim.9b01173); as always a shoutout is due to the people working on it: Leonardo “Leo” Lugo, Gustavo “Gus” Mondragón and leading the charge Dr. Jacinto Sandoval-Lira.

A New Gradúate Student. Raúl Márquez

We’re always happy at the lab when a student defends their dissertation thesis and now it was the turn of Raúl Márquez-Avilés to do so with flying colors.

The title of his dissertation is “Molecular Dynamics Simulations of 5 potential entry inhibitors for HIV-1“. He performed 500 ns long molecular dynamics simulations of the CD4 – gp 120 proteins interacting with one or several molecules of various lead compounds with inhibitory properties. The leads were obtained previously in our group (by Durbis Castillo, now at McGill) from a massive docking library of ca. 16 million compounds, all having a central piperazine core (Fig1)

Figure 1. Lead compounds: Piperazine cores with heterocyclic substitutions.

The protein gp120 is a surface glyco-protein located at the surface of the HIV virus which couples to the CD4 protein on lymphocytes-T, being this the first step in the infection process of a healthy cell; generating inhibitors of this coupling could help stop the infection from spreading systemically. Four systems were devised: (SB) The reference state for which only gp-120 and CD4 were considered, (S2) A single ligand molecule was placed in the Phe43 cavity of gp120 to assess their inhibitory capacity, (S3) the ligand was placed right outside the Phe43 cavity to assess their entry capacity, and (S4) five ligand molecules were placed outside the Phe43 cavity of gp120 to force their entry (Fig2). Their binding energies were calculated using MM-PBSA and although all five ligands show statistically similar results as inhibitors all five exhibit a stronger binding energy than the reference proving their efficacy in preventing the coupling of the virus to the healthy cell. As a bonus, his research on system S4 shed light on the existence of an allosteric site on gp120 that will warrant further research in our group.

Figure 2. Systems for which 500 ns MD simulations were performed.

This work is still pending publication.

Raúl Márquez has always proven to be a hard working person who is also very self-sufficient student, a very cheerful labmate, and, as I just learned yesterday, an avid chess player. I’m sure he has a bright future in whichever endeavor he chooses now. Congratulations Raúl Márquez-Avilés!

Locked out of your Linux Session

Funny enough I was unable to log into my Linux (Ubuntu) session and I realized this might be a more common problem that it seemed. So, if you keep getting redirected to the login screen after typing your correct password over and over (and over and over), there’s no need to panic.

This usually has to do with the .Xauthority file, so from the login page press Ctrl+Alt+F1 which will bring you to the command line where you can login with your usual credentials. Once logged in, search for the .Xauthority file and check that it is owned by you and not the root

ls -l ~/.Xauthority 
-rw------ 1 root root 1 feb 11 13:13 /home/joaquin/.Xauthority

Use the following command to change ownership

chown group:username ~/.Xauthority

in my case both group and username are joaquin. You may need to ‘sudo’ it. If that doesn’t work try deleting the file altogether, upon login it will be created again.

rm -rf ~/.Xauthority

In any case, if any of these solutions worked, press Ctrl+Alt+F7 to go back to the login screen and now you should be able to get in.

These solutions are quite straightfoward but if the problem persist you may need to update the system or downright install it again from the command line we opened at the begining.

Good Luck to Dr. Jacinto Sandoval

We’re sad to begin this year by saying farewell to Dr. Jacinto Sandoval-Lira who held a postdoc position in our lab for two years with a DGAPA – UNAM scholarship, a very competitive and highly sought-after position here in Mexico. Dr. Sandoval will now relocate to the Technological Institute of San Martín Texmelucan in Puebla, Mexico, whose students will be fortunate to have him as a tutor and a teacher of chemistry in the environmental engineering department.

During the past two years we’ve worked together in various projects, mainly the excitonic transference between photosynthetic pigments but also in calculating reaction mechanisms and solving chemical equilibria problems with various computational approaches, but apart from the research Dr. Sandoval was also a co-organizer of the past Meeting on Physical Chemistry, organized a local course on the use of Dens Tool Kit (DTK), as well as our weekly lab seminars and taught various graduate and undergraduate courses on molecular modeling, chemoinformatics and computational chemistry, not too mention all the collaborations he has brought to our lab in the field of organic chemistry of which I regard him as an expert. He really has been a force of nature!

Aside from a brilliant scientist and a hard working one, Jacinto is an exceptional human being and a great friend. His attention to detail, his drive, and his willingness to help others reach their full potential make him an ideal colleague and an ideal professor. I don’t wish you luck, Jacinto, you don’t need it: I wish you success!

The International Year of the Periodic Table #IYPT2019 and the Tie that Binds

This time I try delivering a personal video post to close this #IYPT2019 celebrations. I hope you find it interesting.

I invite you all to always imitate molecules and react!


It was my distinct pleasure for me to participate in the organization of the latest edition of the Mexican Meeting on Theoretical Physical Chemistry, RMFQT which took place last week here in Toluca. With the help of the School of Chemistry from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.

This year the national committee created a Lifetime Achievement Award for Dr. Annik Vivier, Dr. Carlos Bunge, and Dr. José Luis Gázquez. This recognition from our community is awarded to these fine scientists for their contributions to theoretical chemistry but also for their pioneering work in the field in Mexico. The three of them were invited to talk about any topic of their choosing, particularly, Dr. Vivier stirred the imagination of younger students by showing her pictures of the times when she used to hangout with Slater, Roothan, Löwdin, etc., it is always nice to put faces onto equations.

Continuing with a recent tradition we also had the pleasure to host three invited plenary lectures by great scientists and good friends of our community: Prof. William Tiznado (Chile), Prof. Samuel B. Trickey (USA), and Prof. Julia Contreras (France) who shared their progress on their recent work.

As I’ve abundantly pointed out in the past, the RMFQT is a joyous occasion for the Mexican theoretical community to get together with old friends and discuss very exciting research being done in our country and by our colleagues abroad. I’d like to add a big shoutout to Dr. Jacinto Sandoval-Lira for his valuable help with the organization of our event.

Non-canonical Base Pairs show Watson-Crick pairing in MD simulations

Elucidating the pairing of non-hydrogen bonded unnatural base pairs (UBPs) is still a controversial subject due to the lack of specificity in their mutual interactions. Experimentally, NMR is the method of choice but the DNA strand must be affixed on template of sorts such as a polymerase protein. Those discrepancies are well documented in a recent review which cites our previous computational work, both DFT and MD, on UBPs.

Since that last paper of ours on synthetic DNA, my good friend Dr. Rodrigo Galindo from Utah U. and I have had serious doubts on the real pairing fashion exhibited by Romesberg’s famous hydrophobic nucleotides d5SICS – dNaM. While the authors claim a stacked pairing (within the context of the strand in the KlenTaq polymerase enzime), our simulations showed a Watson-Crick-like pairing was favored in the native form. To further shed light on the matter we performed converged micro-seconds long simulations, varying the force field (two recent AMBER fields were explored: Bsc1 and OL15), the water model (TIP3P and OPC), and the ionic compensation scheme (Na+/Cl or Mg2+/Cl).

In the image below it can be observed how the pairing is consistently WC (dC1′-C1′ ~10.4 A) in the most populated clusters regardless of the force field.

Also, a flipping experiment was performed where both nucleotides were placed 180.0° outwards and the system was left to converge inwards to explore a ‘de novo’ pairing guided solely by their mutual interactions and the template formed by the rest of the strand. Distance population for C1′ – C1′ were 10.4 A for Bsc1 (regardless of ionic compensation) and 9.8 A for OL15 (10.4 A where Mg2+ was used as charge compensation).

This study is now published in the Journal of Biomolecular Structure & Dynamics

Despite the successful rate of replication by a living organism -which is a fantastic feat!- of these two nucleotides, there is little chance they can be used for real coding applications (biological or otherwise) due to the lack of structural control of the double helix. The work of Romesberg is impressive, make no mistake about it, but my money isn’t on hydrophobic unnatural nucleotides for information applications 🙂

All credit and glory is due to the amazing Dr. Rodrigo Galindo-Murillo from the University of Utah were he works as a developer for the AMBER code among many other things. Go check his impressive record!

Useful Thermochemistry from Gaussian Calculations

Statistical Mechanics is the bridge between microscopic calculations and thermodynamics of a particle ensemble. By means of calculating a partition function divided in electronic, rotational, translational and vibrational functions, one can calculate all thermodynamic functions required to fully characterize a chemical reaction. From these functions, the vibrational contribution, together with the electronic contribution, is the key element to getting thermodynamic functions.

Calculating the Free Energy change of any given reaction is a useful approach to asses their thermodynamic feasibility. A large negative change in Free Energy when going from reagents to products makes up for a quantitative spontaneous (and exothermic) reaction, nevertheless the rate of the reaction is a different story, one that can be calculated as well.

Using the freq option in your route section for a Gaussian calculation is mandatory to ascertain the current wave function corresponds to a minimum on a potential energy hypersurface, but also yields the thermochemistry and thermodynamic values for the current structure. However, thermochemistry calculations are not restricted to minima but it can also be applied to transition states, therefore yielding a full thermodynamic characterization of a reaction mechanism.

A regular freq calculation yields the following output (all values in atomic units):

Zero-point correction=                           0.176113 (Hartree/Particle)
 Thermal correction to Energy=                    0.193290
 Thermal correction to Enthalpy=                  0.194235
 Thermal correction to Gibbs Free Energy=         0.125894
 Sum of electronic and zero-point Energies=           -750.901777
 Sum of electronic and thermal Energies=              -750.884600
 Sum of electronic and thermal Enthalpies=            -750.883656
 Sum of electronic and thermal Free Energies=         -750.951996

For any given reaction say A+B -> C one could take the values from the last row (lets call it G) for all three components of the reaction and perform the arithmetic: DG = GC – [GA + GB], so products minus reagents.

By default, Gaussian calculates these values (from the previously mentioned partition function) using normal conditions, T = 298.15 K and P = 1 atm. For an assessment of the thermochemistry at other conditions you can include in your route section the corresponding keywords Temperature=x.x and Pressure=x.x, in Kelvin and atmospheres, respectively.

(Huge) Disclaimer: Although calculating the thermochemistry of any reaction by means of DFT calculations is a good (and potentially very useful) guide to chemical reactivity, getting quantitative results require of high accuracy methods like G3 or G4 methods, collectively known as Gn mehtods, which are composed of pre-defined stepwise calculations. The sequence of these calculations is carried out automatically; no basis set should be specified. Other high accuracy methods like CBS-QB3 or W1U can also be considered whenever Gn methods are too costly.

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