Studying chemical reactivity in a virtual environment
Chemical reactivity of a set of reactants is determined by its potential (electronic) energy (hyper)surface. The high dimensionality of this surface renders it difficult to efficiently explore reactivity in a large reactive system. Exhaustive sampling techniques and search algorithms are not straightforward to employ as it is not clear which explored path will eventually produce the minimum energy path of a reaction passing through a transition structure. Here, the chemist's intuition would be of invaluable help, but it cannot be easily exploited because (1) no intuitive and direct tool for the scientist to manipulate molecular structures is currently available and because (2) quantum chemical calculations are inherently expensive in terms of computational effort. In this work, we elaborate on how the chemist can be reintroduced into the exploratory process within a virtual environment that provides immediate feedback and intuitive tools to manipulate a reactive system. We work out in detail how this immersion should take place. We provide an analysis of modern semi-empirical methods which already today are candidates for the interactive study of chemical reactivity. Implications of manual structure manipulations for their physical meaning and chemical relevance are carefully analysed in order to provide sound theoretical foundations for the interpretation of the interactive reactivity exploration.