ConspectusMolecular crystals are chemists' solids in the sense that their structures and properties can be understood in terms of those of the constituent molecules merely perturbed by a crystalline environment. They form a large and important class of solids including ices of atmospheric species, drugs, explosives, and even some organic optoelectronic materials and supramolecular assemblies. Recently, surprisingly simple yet extremely efficient, versatile, easily implemented, and systematically accurate electronic structure methods for molecular crystals have been developed. The methods, collectively referred to as the embedded-fragment scheme, divide a crystal into monomers and overlapping dimers and apply modern molecular electronic structure methods and software to these fragments of the crystal that are embedded in a self-consistently determined crystalline electrostatic field. They enable facile applications of accurate but otherwise prohibitively expensive ab initio molecular orbital theories such as Møller-Plesset perturbation and coupled-cluster theories to a broad range of properties of solids such as internal energies, enthalpies, structures, equation of state, phonon dispersion curves and density of states, infrared and Raman spectra (including band intensities and sometimes anharmonic effects), inelastic neutron scattering spectra, heat capacities, Gibbs energies, and phase diagrams, while accounting for many-body electrostatic (namely, induction or polarization) effects as well as two-body exchange and dispersion interactions from first principles. They can fundamentally alter the role of computing in the studies of molecular crystals in the same way ab initio molecular orbital theories have transformed research practices in gas-phase physical chemistry and synthetic chemistry in the last half century.In this Account, after a brief summary of formalisms and algorithms, we discuss applications of these methods performed in our group as compelling illustrations of their unprecedented power in addressing some of the outstanding problems of solid-state chemistry, high-pressure chemistry, or geochemistry. They are the structure and spectra of ice Ih, in particular, the origin of two peaks in the hydrogen-bond-stretching region of its inelastic neutron scattering spectra, a solid-solid phase transition from CO2-I to elusive, metastable CO2-III, pressure tuning of Fermi resonance in solid CO2, and the structure and spectra of solid formic acid, all at the level of second-order Møller-Plesset perturbation theory or higher.
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