Research in the Kulik group

Research in the Kulik group leverages computational modeling to aid the discovery of new materials and mechanisms. Our group uses first-principles modeling to unearth fundamental aspects of structure-property relationships in catalysts and materials. By taking a computational approach, we carry out studies that allow us to make connections across a wide range of catalytic systems from biological enzymes to emerging heterogeneous single-atom catalysts. We develop computational software and machine learning models that accelerate the discovery of new materials and design rules. This approach enables the prediction of new materials properties in seconds, the exploration of million-compound design spaces, and the identification of design rules and exceptions that go beyond intuition. To ensure the predictive power of our approach, our group develops new methods to increase the accuracy of density functional theory especially for materials with challenging electronic structure such as transition metal complexes and solids.

Read more about our group’s work in the recently published papers below!


Using literature data to engineer MOF stability

Although the tailored metal active sites and porous architectures of MOFs hold great promise for engineering challenges ranging from gas separations to catalysis, a lack of understanding of how to improve their stability limits their use in practice. To overcome this limitation, we extract thousands of published reports of the key aspects of MOF stability necessary for their practical application: the ability to withstand high temperatures without degrading and the capacity to be activated by removal of solvent molecules.

Universal design rules from 23 DFT functionals

Virtual high-throughput screening (VHTS) with density functional theory (DFT) and machine-learning (ML)-acceleration is essential in rapid materials discovery. By necessity, efficient DFT-based workflows are carried out with a single density functional approximation (DFA). Nevertheless, properties evaluated with different DFAs can be expected to disagree for cases with challenging electronic structure (e.g., open-shell transition-metal complexes, TMCs) for which rapid screening is most needed and accurate benchmarks are often unavailable.

The importance of substrate positioning

Nonheme iron halogenases, such as SyrB2, WelO5, and BesD, halogenate unactivated carbon atoms of diverse substrates at ambient conditions with exquisite selectivity seldom matched by nonbiological catalysts. Using experimentally guided molecular dynamics (MD) simulations augmented with multiscale (i.e., quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics) simulations of substrate-bound complexes of BesD and WelO5, we investigate substrate/active-site dynamics that enable selective halogenation.

Mapping the surface of InP QD materials

Modifying the optoelectronic properties of nanostructured materials through introduction of dopant atoms has attracted intense interest, but the approaches employed are often trial and error, preventing rational design. We demonstrate the power of large-scale electronic structure calculations with density functional theory (DFT) to build an atlas of preferred sites for a range of M(II) and M(III) dopants in the representative III-V InP magic size cluster (MSC).

Harder,better,faster,stronger: large-scale QM/MM

Computational prediction of enzyme mechanism and protein function requires accurate physics-based models and suitable sampling. We discuss recent advances in large-scale quantum mechanical (QM) modeling of biochemical systems that have reduced the cost of high-accuracy models. Tradeoffs between sampling and accuracy have motivated modeling with molecular mechanics (MM) in a multiscale QM/MM or iterative approach.

Chem. Rev. on ML for transition metals is out!

Transition-metal complexes are attractive targets for the design of catalysts and functional materials. The behavior of the metal–organic bond, while very tunable for achieving target properties, is challenging to predict and necessitates searching a wide and complex space to identify needles in haystacks for target applications. This review will focus on the techniques that make high-throughput search of transition-metal chemical space feasible for the discovery of complexes with desirable properties.

Electronic allostery in protein dynamics

The delicate interplay of covalent and noncovalent interactions in proteins is inherently quantum mechanical and highly dynamic in nature. To directly interrogate the evolving nature of the electronic structure of proteins, we carry out 100-ps-scale ab initio molecular dynamics simulations of three representative small proteins with range-separated hybrid density functional theory. We quantify the nature and length-scale of the coupling of residue-specific charge probability distributions in these proteins.

What's needed for intelligent workflows?

Accelerated discovery with machine learning (ML) has begun to provide the advances in efficiency needed to overcome the combinatorial challenge of computational materials design. Nevertheless, ML-accelerated discovery both inherits the biases of training data derived from density functional theory (DFT) and leads to many attempted calculations that are doomed to fail. Many compelling functional materials and catalytic processes involve strained chemical bonds, open-shell radicals and diradicals, or metal–organic bonds to open-shell transition-metal centers.

Molecular DFT+U for delocalization error

While density functional theory (DFT) is widely applied for its combination of cost and accuracy, corrections (e.g., DFT+U) that improve it are often needed to tackle correlated transition-metal chemistry. In principle, the functional form of DFT+U, consisting of a set of localized atomic orbitals (AO) and a quadratic energy penalty for deviation from integer occupations of those AOs, enables the recovery of the exact conditions of piecewise linearity and the derivative discontinuity.

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About Us

The Kulik group focuses on the development and application of new electronic structure methods and atomistic simulations tools in the broad area of catalysis.

Our Interests

We are interested in transition metal chemistry, with applications from biological systems (i.e. enzymes) to nonbiological applications in surface science and molecular catalysis.

Our Focus

A key focus of our group is to understand mechanistic features of complex catalysts and to facilitate and develop tools for computationally driven design.

Contact Us

Questions or comments? Let us know! Contact Dr. Kulik: