Reliable Energy Level Alignment at Physisorbed Molecule-Metal Interfaces from Density Functional Theory

David A. Egger, Zhen Fei Liu, Jeffrey B. Neaton, Leeor Kronik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


A key quantity for molecule-metal interfaces is the energy level alignment of molecular electronic states with the metallic Fermi level. We develop and apply an efficient theoretical method, based on density functional theory (DFT) that can yield quantitatively accurate energy level alignment information for physisorbed metal-molecule interfaces. The method builds on the "DFT+Σ" approach, grounded in many-body perturbation theory, which introduces an approximate electron self-energy that corrects the level alignment obtained from conventional DFT for missing exchange and correlation effects associated with the gas-phase molecule and substrate polarization. Here, we extend the DFT+Σ approach in two important ways: first, we employ optimally tuned range-separated hybrid functionals to compute the gas-phase term, rather than rely on GW or total energy differences as in prior work; second, we use a nonclassical DFT-determined image-charge plane of the metallic surface to compute the substrate polarization term, rather than the classical DFT-derived image plane used previously. We validate this new approach by a detailed comparison with experimental and theoretical reference data for several prototypical molecule-metal interfaces, where excellent agreement with experiment is achieved: benzene on graphite (0001), and 1,4-benzenediamine, Cu-phthalocyanine, and 3,4,9,10-perylene-tetracarboxylic-dianhydride on Au(111). In particular, we show that the method correctly captures level alignment trends across chemical systems and that it retains its accuracy even for molecules for which conventional DFT suffers from severe self-interaction errors. (Figure Presented).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2448-2455
Number of pages8
JournalNano Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 8 Apr 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Molecule-metal interface
  • density functional theory
  • energy level alignment
  • image plane
  • range-separated hybrid


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