Fields of applicationThe term theoretical chemistry may be defined as a mathematical description of chemistry, whereas computational chemistry is usually used when a mathematical method is sufficiently well developed that it can be automated for implementation on a computer. In theoretical chemistry, chemists, physicists and mathematicians develop algorithms and computer programs to predict atomic and molecular properties and reaction paths for chemical reactions. Computational chemists, in contrast, may simply apply existing computer programs and methodologies to specific chemical questions.
There are two different aspects to computational chemistry:
- Computational studies can be carried out to find a starting point for a laboratory synthesis, or to assist in understanding experimental data, such as the position and source of spectroscopic peaks.
- Computational studies can be used to predict the possibility of so far entirely unknown molecules or to explore reaction mechanisms that are not readily studied by experimental means.
Several major areas may be distinguished within computational chemistry:
- The prediction of the molecular structure of molecules by the use of the simulation of forces, or more accurate quantum chemical methods, to find stationary points on the energy surface as the position of the nuclei is varied.
- Storing and searching for data on chemical entities (see chemical databases).
- Identifying correlations between chemical structures and properties (see QSPR and QSAR).
- Computational approaches to help in the efficient synthesis of compounds.
- Computational approaches to design molecules that interact in specific ways with other molecules (e.g. drug design and catalysis).