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Basics of the density functional theory

Jean-Louis Bretonnet

*Corresponding author: Jean-Louis Bretonnet jean-louis.bretonnet@univ-lorraine.fr


The density functional theory (DFT) established itself as a well reputed way to compute the electronic structure in most branches of chemistry and materials science. In the formulation given by Kohn, Hohenberg and Sham in the 1960's, the many-electron wave function is replaced by the electron density, so that the energy is just a functional of the latter. The DFT is applied, with low computational cost and reasonable accuracy, to predict diverse properties as binding or atomization energies, shapes and sizes of molecules, crystal structures of solids, energy barriers to various processes, etc. In the mid 1980s, it became an attractive alternative to the well developed wave function techniques such as Hartree-Fock, when crucial developments in exchange-correlation energy has been taken into account, since the Hartree-Fock method treats exchange exactly but neglects correlation
This article is an introduction to the conceptual basis of the DFT in a language accessible for readers entering the field of quantum chemistry and condensed-matter physics. It begins with a presentation of the Thomas-Fermi atomic model and follows by the essentials of the density functional theory based on the works of Hohenberg, Kohn and Sham. With a discussion of the exchange and correlation effects, possible improvements are then presented. Lastly, mention is made of the main hybrid functionals and of the software packages successfully applied to diverse materials of chemical, physical and biological interest.

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