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Solvation Models


Two solvation models are available in NWChem: COSMO and SMD. Since some of the COSMO parameters are used for SMD, we suggest to read the COSMO section before the SMD one.



COSMO is the continuum solvation ‘COnductor-like Screening MOdel’ of A. Klamt and G. Schüürmann to describe dielectric screening effects in solvents1. This model has been enhanced by D.M. York and M. Karplus2 to create a smooth potential energy surface. The latter facilitates geometry optimization and dynamics and the implementation has been adapted to take advantage of those ideas.

The NWChem COSMO module implements algorithm for calculation of the energy for the following methods:

  1. Restricted Hartree-Fock (RHF),
  2. Restricted open-shell Hartree-Fock (ROHF),
  3. Restricted Kohn-Sham DFT (DFT),
  4. Unrestricted Kohn-Sham DFT (ODFT),

by determining the solvent reaction field self-consistently with the solute charge distribution from the respective methods. Note that COSMO for unrestricted Hartree-Fock (UHF) method can also be performed by invoking the DFT module with appropriate keywords.

Correlation energy of solvent molecules may also be evaluated at

  1. MP2,
  2. CCSD,
  3. CCSD+T(CCSD),
  4. CCSD(T),

levels of theory. It is cautioned, however, that these correlated COSMO calculations determine the solvent reaction field using the HF charge distribution of the solute rather than the charge distribution of the correlation theory and are not entirely self consistent in that respect. In other words, these calculations assume that the correlation effect and solvation effect are largely additive, and the combination effect thereof is neglected. COSMO for MCSCF has not been implemented yet.

In the current implementation the code calculates the gas-phase energy of the system followed by the solution-phase energy, and returns the electrostatic contribution to the solvation free energy. At the present gradients are calculated analytically, but frequencies are calculated by finite difference of the gradients.
The non-electrostatic contributions can be calculated by turning on the SMD model. It should be noted that one must in general take into account the standard state correction besides the electrostatic and cavitation/dispersion contribution to the solvation free energy, when a comparison to experimental data is made.

COSMO Input Parameters

Invoking the COSMO solvation model is done by specifying the input COSMO input block with the input options as:

  [dielec  <real dielec default 78.4>]  
  [parameters <filename>]  
  [radius  <real atom1>  
           <real atom2>  
      . . .  
           <real atomN>]  
  [iscren  <integer iscren default 0>]  
  [minbem  <integer minbem default 2>]  
  [ificos  <integer ificos default 0>]  
  [lineq   <integer lineq default 1>]  
  [zeta <real zeta default 0.98>]  
  [gamma_s <real gammas default 1.0>]  
  [sw_tol <real swtol default 1.0e-4>]  
  [do_gasphase  <logical do_gasphase default True>] 

followed by the task directive specifying the wavefunction and type of calculation, e.g., task scf energy, task mp2 energy, task dft optimize, etc.

COSMO: OFF keyword

off can be used to turn off COSMO in a compound (multiple task) run. By default, once the COSMO solvation model has been defined it will be used in subsequent calculations. Add the keyword off if COSMO is not needed in subsequent calculations.


dielec is the value of the dielectric constant of the medium, with a default value of 78.4 (the dielectric constant for water).


parameters specifies COSMO radii parameters file that stores custom setting for COSMO parameters. The format for such file consists of the atom or element name followed by the radii. The program will first attempt to match based on atom name and only then the element name. Otherwise radius will be set based on default parameters. The file has to present in one of the three location ( in the order of preference) - directory specified by the environmental variable NWCHEM_COSMO_LIBRARY, permanent directory, and run directory.


radius is an array that specifies the radius of the spheres associated with each atom and that make up the molecule-shaped cavity. These values will override default radii setting including those specified in the COSMO parameter file (if any) Default values are Van der Waals radii. Values are in units of angstroms. The codes uses the following Van der Waals radii by default:

Default radii provided by Andreas Klamt (Cosmologic)

vdw radii: 1.17 (± 0.02) * Bondi radius3

optimal vdw radii for H, C, N, O, F, S, Cl, Br, I4

for heavy elements: 1.17*1.9

     data (vander(i),i=1,102)  
    1 / 1.300,1.638,1.404,1.053,2.0475,2.00,  
    2   1.830,1.720,1.720,1.8018,1.755,1.638,  
    3   1.404,2.457,2.106,2.160,2.05,2.223,  
    4   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    5   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    6   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.160,2.223,  
    7   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    8   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    9   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.320,2.223,  
    1   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    2   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    3   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    4   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    5   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    6   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    7   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,  
    7   2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223,2.223/

For examples see Stefanovich et al.5 and Barone et al.6

“Rsolv” is no longer used.


iscren is a flag to define the dielectric charge scaling option. iscren 1 implies the original scaling from Klamt and Schüürmann, mainly “(ε-1)/(ε+1/2)”, where ε is the dielectric constant. iscren 0 implies the modified scaling suggested by Stefanovich and Truong5, mainly “(ε-1)/ε“. Default is to use the modified scaling. For high dielectric the difference between the scaling is not significant.

The next two parameters define the tesselation of the unit sphere. The approach still follows the original proposal by Klamt and Schüürmann to some degree. Basically a tesselation is generated from minbem refining passes starting from either an octahedron or an icosahedron. Each level of refinement partitions the triangles of the current tesselation into four triangles. This procedure is repeated recursively until the desired granularity of the tesselation is reached. The induced point charges from the polarization of the medium are assigned to the centers of the tesselation. The default value is minbem 2. The flag ificos serves to select the original tesselation, ificos 0 for an octahedron (default) and ificos 1 for an icoshedron. Starting from an icosahedron yields a somewhat finer tesselation that converges somewhat faster. Solvation energies are not really sensitive to this choice for sufficiently fine tesselations. The old “maxbem” directive is no longer used.

COSMO: LINEQ keyword

The lineq parameter serves to select the numerical algorithm to solve the linear equations yielding the effective charges that represent the polarization of the medium. lineq 0 selects a dense matrix linear equation solver (default), lineq 1 selects an iterative method. For large molecules where the number of effective charges is large, the code selects the iterative method.

COSMO: ZETA keyword

zeta sets the width of the Gaussian charge distributions that were suggested by York and Karplus to avoid singularities when two surface charges coincide. The default value is zeta 0.98 this value was chosen to ensure that the results of the current implementation are as close as possible to those of the original Klamt and Schüürmann based implementation.

COSMO: GAMMA_S keyword

gamma_s modifies the width of the smooth switching function that eliminates surface charges when their positions move into the sphere of a neighboring atom. gamma_s 0.0 leads to a heavyside or abrupt switching function, whereas gamma_s 1.0 maximizes the width of the switching function. The default value is gamma_s 1.0.

COSMO: SW_TOL keyword

sw_tol specifies the cutoff of the switching function below which a surface charge at a particular point is eliminated. The values of the switching function lie in the domain from 0 to 1. This value should not be set too small as that leads to instabilities in the linear system solvers. The default value is sw_tol 1.0e-4.


do_gasphase is a flag to control whether the calculation of the solvation energy is preceded by a gas phase calculation. The default is to always perform a gas phase calculation first and then calculate the solvation starting from the converged gas phase electron density. However, in geometry optimizations this approach can double the cost. In such a case setting do_gasphase false suppresses the gas phase calculations and only the solvated system calculations are performed. This option needs to be used with care as in some cases starting the COSMO solvation from an unconverged electron density can generate unphysical charges that lock the calculation into strange electron distributions.


do_cosmo_ks is a flag to turn on the Klamt-Schüürmann model


do_cosmo_yk is a flag to turn on the York-Karplus model (default)


do_cosmo_smd is a flag to turn on the SMD model. More details can be found at the SMD Model documentation

The following example is for a water molecule in ‘water’, using the HF/6-31G** level of theory:


 o                  .0000000000         .0000000000        -.0486020332  
 h                  .7545655371         .0000000000         .5243010666  
 h                 -.7545655371         .0000000000         .5243010666  
 o library 6-31g**  
 h library 6-31g**  
 dielec 78.0  
 radius 1.40  
 lineq  0  
task scf energy

Alternatively, instead of listing COSMO radii parameters in the input, the former can be loaded using an external file through the parameters directive


 ow                  .0000000000         .0000000000        -.0486020332  
 hw                  .7545655371         .0000000000         .5243010666  
 h                  -.7545655371         .0000000000         .5243010666  
 * library 6-31g**  

 dielec 78.0  
 lineq  0  
 parameters water.par  

task scf energy

where the water.par file has the following form:

O 1.40
H 1.16

This will set radii of all oxygen atoms to 1.4 and all hydrogen atoms to 1.16. More fine grained control may be achieved using specific atom names. For example, the following parameter file

O    1.40
H    1.16
HW  1.06

will set a different radii of 1.06 to hydrogen atoms named HW. Note that, as per general rule in NWChem, all names are case insensitive.

and placed in one of the these locations - directory specified by the environmental variable NWCHEM_COSMO_LIBRARY, permanent directory, or run directory.



SMD denotes “solvation model based on density” and it is described in detail in the 2009 paper by Marenich, Cramer and Truhlar7.

The SMD model is a universal continuum solvation model where “universal” denotes its applicability to any charged or uncharged solute in any solvent or liquid medium for which a few key descriptors are known. The word “continuum” denotes that the solvent is not represented explicitly as a collection of discrete solvent molecules but rather as a dielectric medium with surface tensions at the solute-solvent interface.

SMD directly calculates the free energy of solvation of an ideal solvation process that occurs at fixed concentration (for example, from an ideal gas at a concentration of 1 mol/L to an ideal solution at a liquid-phase concentration of 1 mol/L) at 298 K, but this may converted by standard thermodynamic formulas to a standard-state free energy of solvation, which is defined as the transfer of molecules from an ideal gas at 1 bar to an ideal 1 molar solution.

The SMD model separates the fixed-concentration free energy of solvation into two components. The first component is the bulk-electrostatic contribution arising from a self-consistent reaction field (SCRF) treatment. The SCRF treatment involves an integration of the nonhomogeneous-dielectric Poisson equation for bulk electrostatics in terms of the COSMO model of Klamt and Schüürmann with the modified COSMO scaling factor suggested by Stefanovich and Truong and by using the SMD intrinsic atomic Coulomb radii. These radii have been optimized for H, C, N, O, F, Si, P, S, Cl, and Br. For any other atom the current implementation of the SMD model uses scaled values of the van der Waals radii of Mantina et al8.

The scaling factor equals 1.52 for group 17 elements heavier than Br (i.e., for I and At) and 1.18 for all other elements for which there are no optimized SMD radii.

The second contribution to the fixed-concentration free energy of solvation is the contribution arising from short-range interactions between the solute and solvent molecules in the first solvation shell. This contribution is called the cavity–dispersion–solvent-structure (CDS) term, and it is a sum of terms that are proportional (with geometry-dependent proportionality constants called atomic surface tensions) to the solvent-accessible surface areas (SASAs) of the individual atoms of the solute.

SMD Input Parameters

The SMD model requires additional parameters in the COSMO input block

  [do_cosmo_smd <logical>]
  [solvent (keyword)]
  [icds <integer>]
  [sola <real>]
  [solb <real>]
  [solc <real>]
  [solg <real>]
  [solh <real>]
  [soln <real>]

At the moment the SMD model is available in NWChem only with the DFT block

The SMD input options are as follows:

do_cosmo_smd <logical>

The do_cosmo_smd keyword instructs NWChem to perform a ground-state SMD calculation when set to a true value.

SMD: SOLVENT keyword

solvent (keyword)

a solvent keyword from the short name entry in the list of available SMD solvent names.

When a solvent is specified by name, the descriptors for the solvent are based on the Minnesota Solvent Descriptor Database9.

The user can specify a solvent (by using a string using up to eight characters) that is not on the list by using a new solvent keyword and introducing user-provided values for the following solvent descriptors:

SMD: DIELEC keyword

dielec (real input)

dielectric constant at 298 K

SMD: SOLA keyword

sola (real input) 

Abraham’s hydrogen bond acidity

SMD: SOLB keyword

solb (real input) 

Abraham’s hydrogen bond basicity

SMD: SOLC keyword

solc (real input)

aromaticity as a fraction of non-hydrogenic solvent atoms that are aromatic carbon atoms

SMD: SOLG keyword

solg (real input)

macroscopic surface tension of the solvent at an air/solvent interface at 298 K in units of cal mol–1 Å–2
(note that 1 dyne/cm = 1.43932 cal mol–1 Å–2)

SMD: SOLH keyword

solh (real input)

electronegative halogenicity as the fraction of non-hydrogenic solvent atoms that are F, Cl, or Br

SMD: SOLN keyword

soln (real input)

index of refraction at optical frequencies at 293 K

SMD: ICDS keyword

icds (integer input)

icds should have a value of 1 for water. icds should have a value of 2 for any nonaqueous solvent.
If icds is set equal to 2, then you need to provide the following solvent descriptors (see the MN solvent descriptor database ):

SMD Examples

SMD Example: water solvent

title "SMD/M06-2X/6-31G(d) solvation free energy for CF3COO- in water"
charge -1
geometry nocenter
C    0.512211   0.000000  -0.012117
C   -1.061796   0.000000  -0.036672
O   -1.547400   1.150225  -0.006609
O   -1.547182  -1.150320  -0.006608
F    1.061911   1.087605  -0.610341
F    1.061963  -1.086426  -0.612313
F    0.993255  -0.001122   1.266928
symmetry c1
* library 6-31G*
 XC m06-2x
 do_cosmo_smd true
 solvent water
task dft energy

SMD Example: new solvent

Example using a user defined solvent, not present in the SMD list of solvents

title "SMD/M06-2X/6-31G(d) solvation free energy for CF3COO- in my solvent"
charge -1
geometry nocenter
C    0.512211   0.000000  -0.012117
C   -1.061796   0.000000  -0.036672
O   -1.547400   1.150225  -0.006609
O   -1.547182  -1.150320  -0.006608
F    1.061911   1.087605  -0.610341
F    1.061963  -1.086426  -0.612313
F    0.993255  -0.001122   1.266928
symmetry c1
* library 6-31G*
 XC m06-2x
 do_cosmo_smd true
 solvent mysolv 
 dielec 11.4
 sola 1.887
 solb 0.0
 soln 0.98
 icds 2
task dft energy

Solvents List - Solvent keyword

The short name for the solvent from the table can be used with the solvent keyword to define the solvent.
Example with acetonitrile.

  solvent acetntrl
Long name short name dielec
acetic acid acetacid 6.2528
acetone acetone 20.493
acetonitrile acetntrl 35.688
acetophenone acetphen 17.440
aniline aniline 6.8882
anisole anisole 4.2247
benzaldehyde benzaldh 18.220
benzene benzene 2.2706
benzonitrile benzntrl 25.592
benzyl chloride benzylcl 6.7175
1-bromo-2-methylpropane brisobut 7.7792
bromobenzene brbenzen 5.3954
bromoethane brethane 9.01
bromoform bromform 4.2488
1-bromooctane broctane 5.0244
1-bromopentane brpentan 6.269
2-bromopropane brpropa2 9.3610
1-bromopropane brpropan 8.0496
butanal butanal 13.450
butanoic acid butacid 2.9931
1-butanol butanol 17.332
2-butanol butanol2 15.944
butanone butanone 18.246
butanonitrile butantrl 24.291
butyl acetate butile 4.9941
butylamine nba 4.6178
n-butylbenzene nbutbenz 2.360
sec-butylbenzene sbutbenz 2.3446
tert-butylbenzene tbutbenz 2.3447
carbon disulfide cs2 2.6105
carbon tetrachloride carbntet 2.2280
chlorobenzene clbenzen 5.6968
sec-butyl chloride secbutcl 8.3930
chloroform chcl3 4.7113
1-chlorohexane clhexane 5.9491
1-chloropentane clpentan 6.5022
1-chloropropane clpropan 8.3548
o-chlorotoluene ocltolue 4.6331
m-cresol m-cresol 12.440
o-cresol o-cresol 6.760
cyclohexane cychexan 2.0165
cyclohexanone cychexon 15.619
cyclopentane cycpentn 1.9608
cyclopentanol cycpntol 16.989
cyclopentanone cycpnton 13.58
cis-decalin declncis 2.2139
trans-decalin declntra 2.1781
decalin (cis/trans mixture) declnmix 2.196
n-decane decane 1.9846
1-decanol decanol 7.5305
1,2-dibromoethane edb12 4.9313
dibromomethane dibrmetn 7.2273
dibutyl ether butyleth 3.0473
o-dichlorobenzene odiclbnz 9.9949
1,2-dichloroethane edc12 10.125
cis-dichloroethylene c12dce 9.200
trans-dichloroethylene t12dce 2.140
dichloromethane dcm 8.930
diethyl ether ether 4.2400
diethyl sulfide et2s 5.723
diethylamine dietamin 3.5766
diiodomethane mi 5.320
diisopropyl ether dipe 3.380
dimethyl disulfide dmds 9.600
dimethylsulfoxide dmso 46.826
N,N-dimethylacetamide dma 37.781
cis-1,2-dimethylcyclohexane cisdmchx 2.060
N,N-dimethylformamide dmf 37.219
2,4-dimethylpentane dmepen24 1.8939
2,4-dimethylpyridine dmepyr24 9.4176
2,6-dimethylpyridine dmepyr26 7.1735
1,4-dioxane dioxane 2.2099
diphenyl ether phoph 3.730
dipropylamine dproamin 2.9112
n-dodecane dodecan 2.0060
1,2-ethanediol meg 40.245
ethanethiol etsh 6.667
ethanol ethanol 24.852
ethyl acetate etoac 5.9867
ethyl formate etome 8.3310
ethylbenzene eb 2.4339
ethylphenyl ether phenetol 4.1797
fluorobenzene c6h5f 5.420
1-fluorooctane foctane 3.890
formamide formamid 108.94
formic acid formacid 51.100
n-heptane heptane 1.9113
1-heptanol heptanol 11.321
2-heptanone heptnon2 11.658
4-heptanone heptnon4 12.257
n-hexadecane hexadecn 2.0402
n-hexane hexane 1.8819
hexanoic acid hexnacid 2.600
1-hexanol hexanol 12.51
2-hexanone hexanon2 14.136
1-hexene hexene 2.0717
1-hexyne hexyne 2.615
iodobenzene c6h5i 4.5470
1-iodobutane iobutane 6.173
iodoethane c2h5i 7.6177
1-iodohexadecane iohexdec 3.5338
iodomethane ch3i 6.8650
1-iodopentane iopentan 5.6973
1-iodopropane iopropan 6.9626
isopropylbenzene cumene 2.3712
p-isopropyltoluene p-cymene 2.2322
mesitylene mesityln 2.2650
methanol methanol 32.613
2-methoxyethanol egme 17.200
methyl acetate meacetat 6.8615
methyl benzoate mebnzate 6.7367
methyl butanoate mebutate 5.5607
methyl formate meformat 8.8377
4-methyl-2-pentanone mibk 12.887
methyl propanoate mepropyl 6.0777
2-methyl-1-propanol isobutol 16.777
2-methyl-2-propanol terbutol 12.470
N-methylaniline nmeaniln 5.9600
methylcyclohexane mecychex 2.024
N-methylformamide (E/Z mixture) nmfmixtr 181.56
2-methylpentane isohexan 1.890
2-methylpyridine mepyrid2 9.9533
3-methylpyridine mepyrid3 11.645
4-methylpyridine mepyrid4 11.957
nitrobenzene c6h5no2 34.809
nitroethane c2h5no2 28.290
nitromethane ch3no2 36.562
1-nitropropane ntrprop1 23.730
2-nitropropane ntrprop2 25.654
o-nitrotoluene ontrtolu 25.669
n-nonane nonane 1.9605
1-nonanol nonanol 8.5991
5-nonanone nonanone 10.600
n-octane octane 1.9406
1-octanol octanol 9.8629
2-octanone octanon2 9.4678
n-pentadecane pentdecn 2.0333
pentanal pentanal 10.000
n-pentane npentane 1.8371
pentanoic acid pentacid 2.6924
1-pentanol pentanol 15.130
2-pentanone pentnon2 15.200
3-pentanone pentnon3 16.780
1-pentene pentene 1.9905
E-2-pentene e2penten 2.051
pentyl acetate pentacet 4.7297
pentylamine pentamin 4.2010
perfluorobenzene pfb 2.029
phenylmethanol benzalcl 12.457
propanal propanal 18.500
propanoic acid propacid 3.440
1-propanol propanol 20.524
2-propanol propnol2 19.264
propanonitrile propntrl 29.324
2-propen-1-ol propenol 19.011
propyl acetate propacet 5.5205
propylamine propamin 4.9912
pyridine pyridine 12.978
tetrachloroethene c2cl4 2.268
tetrahydrofuran thf 7.4257
tetrahydrothiophene-S,S-dioxide sulfolan 43.962
tetralin tetralin 2.771
thiophene thiophen 2.7270
thiophenol phsh 4.2728
toluene toluene 2.3741
tributyl phosphate tbp 8.1781
1,1,1-trichloroethane tca111 7.0826
1,1,2-trichloroethane tca112 7.1937
trichloroethene tce 3.422
triethylamine et3n 2.3832
2,2,2-trifluoroethanol tfe222 26.726
1,2,4-trimethylbenzene tmben124 2.3653
2,2,4-trimethylpentane isoctane 1.9358
n-undecane undecane 1.9910
m-xylene m-xylene 2.3478
o-xylene o-xylene 2.5454
p-xylene p-xylene 2.2705
xylene (mixture) xylenemx 2.3879
water h2o 78.400

Usage Tips

Authors of paper 7 report that
” … the SMD/COSMO/NWChem calculations we employed finer grids (options minbem=3, maxbem=4, ificos=1) because the default NWChem tessellation parameters (options: minbem=2, maxbem=3, ificos=0) produced very large errors in solvation free energies.”
Since the maxbem keyword is no longer in use, this paper’s recommended input translate into

 minbem 3
 ificos 1


  1. Klamt, A.; Schüürmann, G. COSMO: A New Approach to Dielectric Screening in Solvents with Explicit Expressions for the Screening Energy and Its Gradient. J. Chem. Soc., Perkin Trans. 2 1993, No. 5, 799–805.

  2. York, D. M.; Karplus, M. A Smooth Solvation Potential Based on the Conductor-Like Screening Model. The Journal of Physical Chemistry A 1999, 103 (50), 11060–11079.

  3. Bondi, A. Van Der Waals Volumes and Radii. The Journal of Physical Chemistry 1964, 68 (3), 441–451.

  4. Klamt, A.; Jonas, V.; Bürger, T.; Lohrenz, J. C. W. Refinement and Parametrization of COSMO-RS. The Journal of Physical Chemistry A 1998, 102 (26), 5074–5085.

  5. Stefanovich, E. V.; Truong, T. N. Optimized Atomic Radii for Quantum Dielectric Continuum Solvation Models. Chemical Physics Letters 1995, 244 (1-2), 65–74.

  6. Barone, V.; Cossi, M.; Tomasi, J. A New Definition of Cavities for the Computation of Solvation Free Energies by the Polarizable Continuum Model. The Journal of Chemical Physics 1997, 107 (8), 3210–3221.

  7. Marenich, A. V.; Cramer, C. J.; Truhlar, D. G. Universal Solvation Model Based on Solute Electron Density and on a Continuum Model of the Solvent Defined by the Bulk Dielectric Constant and Atomic Surface Tensions. The Journal of Physical Chemistry B 2009, 113 (18), 6378–6396.

  8. Haynes, W. M. CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics; Mantina, M., Valero, R., Cramer, C. J., Truhlar, D. G., Eds.; Taylor & Francis Group, 2013; pp 9–49. 

  9. Winget, P.; Dolney, D. M.; Giesen, D. J.; Cramer, C. J.; Truhlar, D. G. Minnesota Solvent Descriptor Database. Minneapolis, MN: Department of Chemistry and Supercomputer Institute 1999