Monday, October 1, 2012

A highly original model for water

I find it is rare that I read a paper that I think is highly original and creative. One I read recently is
Water Modeled As an Intermediate Element between Carbon and Silicon
by Valeria Molinero and Emily Moore

They model water molecules as single atoms! It is just like a spherical cow. And it works..

The abstract of the paper is beautifully written and very informative and so I reproduce it here.
Water and silicon are chemically dissimilar substances with common physical properties. Their liquids display a temperature of maximum density, increased diffusivity on compression, and they form tetrahedral crystals and tetrahedral amorphous phases. The common feature to water, silicon, and carbon is the formation of tetrahedrally coordinated units. We exploit these similarities to develop a coarse-grained model of water (mW) [monatomic Water] that is essentially an atom with tetrahedrality intermediate between carbon and silicon. mW mimics the hydrogen-bonded structure of water through the introduction of a nonbond angular dependent term that encourages tetrahedral configurations. 
The model departs from the prevailing paradigm in water modeling: the use of long-ranged forces (electrostatics) to produce short-ranged (hydrogen-bonded) structure. 
mW has only short-range interactions yet it reproduces the energetics, density and structure of liquid water, and its anomalies and phase transitions with comparable or better accuracy than the most popular atomistic models of water, at less than 1% of the computational cost. 
We conclude that it is not the nature of the interactions but the connectivity of the molecules that determines the structural and thermodynamic behavior of water. 
The speedup in computing time provided by mW makes it particularly useful for the study of slow processes in deeply supercooled water, the mechanism of ice nucleation, wetting-drying transitions, and as a realistic water model for coarse-grained simulations of biomolecules and complex materials.
The success of the model highlights how the properties of liquid water are emergent.
The authors recently used this model in a Nature paper,

Structural transformation in supercooled water controls the crystallization rate of ice

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