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Concept# Configuration interaction

Summary

Configuration interaction (CI) is a post-Hartree–Fock linear variational method for solving the nonrelativistic Schrödinger equation within the Born–Oppenheimer approximation for a quantum chemical multi-electron system. Mathematically, configuration simply describes the linear combination of Slater determinants used for the wave function. In terms of a specification of orbital occupation (for instance, (1s)2(2s)2(2p)1...), interaction means the mixing (interaction) of different electronic configurations (states). Due to the long CPU time and large memory required for CI calculations, the method is limited to relatively small systems.
In contrast to the Hartree–Fock method, in order to account for electron correlation, CI uses a variational wave function that is a linear combination of configuration state functions (CSFs) built from spin orbitals (denoted by the superscript SO),
where Ψ is usually the electronic ground state of the system. If the expansion includes all possible CSFs of the appropriate symmetry, then this is a full configuration interaction procedure which exactly solves the electronic Schrödinger equation within the space spanned by the one-particle basis set. The first term in the above expansion is normally the Hartree–Fock determinant. The other CSFs can be characterised by the number of spin orbitals that are swapped with virtual orbitals from the Hartree–Fock determinant. If only one spin orbital differs, we describe this as a single excitation determinant. If two spin orbitals differ it is a double excitation determinant and so on. This is used to limit the number of determinants in the expansion which is called the CI-space.
Truncating the CI-space is important to save computational time. For example, the method CID is limited to double excitations only. The method CISD is limited to single and double excitations. Single excitations on their own do not mix with the Hartree–Fock determinant. These methods, CID and CISD, are in many standard programs.

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