Spin densities in two-component relativistic density functional calculations: Noncollinear versus collinear approach



With present day exchange-correlation functionals, accurate results in nonrelativistic open shell density functional calculations can only be obtained if one uses functionals that do not only depend on the electron density but also on the spin density. We consider the common case where such functionals are applied in relativistic density functional calculations. In scalar-relativistic calculations, the spin density can be defined conventionally, but if spin-orbit coupling is taken into account, spin is no longer a good quantum number and it is not clear what the “spin density” is. In many applications, a fixed quantization axis is used to define the spin density (“collinear approach”), but one can also use the length of the local spin magnetization vector without any reference to an external axis (“noncollinear approach”). These two possibilities are compared in this work both by formal analysis and numerical experiments. It is shown that the (nonrelativistic) exchange-correlation functional should be invariant with respect to rotations in spin space, and this only holds for the noncollinear approach. Total energies of open shell species are higher in the collinear approach because less exchange energy is assigned to a given Kohn-Sham reference function. More importantly, the collinear approach breaks rotational symmetry, that is, in molecular calculations one may find different energies for different orientations of the molecule. Data for the first ionization potentials of Tl, Pb, element 113, and element 114, and for the orientation dependence of the total energy of Imath image and PbF indicate that the error introduced by the collinear approximation is ∼0.1 eV for valence ionization potentials, but can be much larger if highly ionized open shell states are considered. Rotational invariance is broken by the same amount. This clearly indicates that the collinear approach should not be used, as the full treatment is easily implemented and does not introduce much more computational effort. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Comput Chem 23: 779–785, 2002