Computational Chemistry - History

History

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 carried out. Theoretical chemists became extensive users of the early digital computers. A very detailed account of such use in the United Kingdom is given by Smith and Sutcliffe. The first ab initio Hartree–Fock calculations on diatomic molecules were carried out 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 carried out in the late 1950s. The first configuration interaction calculations were carried out 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 for the determination of 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 up ab initio calculations of molecular orbitals. Of these four programs, only GAUSSIAN, now massively 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, were developed, primarily by Norman Allinger.

One of the first mentions of the term "computational chemistry" can be found in the 1970 book Computers and Their Role in the Physical Sciences by Sidney Fernbach and Abraham Haskell Taub, where they state "It seems, therefore, that 'computational chemistry' can finally be more and more of a reality." During the 1970s, widely different methods began to be seen as part of a new emerging discipline of computational chemistry. The Journal of Computational Chemistry was first published in 1980.

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