The Quest for Accurate Liquid Water Properties from First Principles

Developing accurate ab initio molecular dynamics (AIMD) models that capture both electronic reorganization and nuclear quantum effects associated with hydrogen bonding is key to quantitative understanding of bulk water and its anomalies as well as its role as a universal solvent. For condensed phase simulations, AIMD has typically relied on the generalized gradient approximation (GGA) of density functional theory (DFT) as the underlying model chemistry for the potential energy surface, with nuclear quantum effects (NQEs) sometimes modeled by performing classical molecular dynamics simulations at elevated temperatures. Here we show that the properties of liquid water obtained from the meta-GGA B97M-rV functional, when evaluated using accelerated path integral molecular dynamics simulations, display accuracy comparable to a computationally expensive dispersion-corrected hybrid functional, revPBE0-D3. We show that the meta-GGA DFT functional reproduces bulk water properties including radial distribution functions, self-diffusion coefficients, and infrared spectra with comparable accuracy of a much more expensive hybrid functional. This work demonstrates that the underlying quality of a good DFT functional requires evaluation with quantum nuclei and that high-temperature simulations are a poor proxy for properly treating NQEs.