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The many-body expansion of the interaction potential between atoms and molecules is analyzed in detail for different types of interactions involving up to seven atoms. Elementary clusters of Ar, Na, Si, and, in particular, Au are studied, using first-principles wave-function- and density-functional-based methods to obtain the individual n-body contributions to the interaction energies. With increasing atom number the many-body expansion converges rapidly only for long-range weak interactions. Large oscillatory behavior is observed for other types of interactions. This is consistent with the fact that Au clusters up to a certain size prefer planar structures over the more compact three-dimensional Lennard-Jones-type structures. Several Au model potentials and semi-empirical PM6 theory are investigated for their ability to reproduce the quantum results. We further investigate small water clusters as prototypes of hydrogen-bonded systems. Here, the many-body expansion converges rapidly, reflecting the localized nature of the hydrogen bond and justifying the use of two-body potentials to describe water-water interactions. The question of whether electron correlation contributions can be successfully modeled by a many-body interaction potential is also addressed.


This article was originally published in Physical Review A, 76(1): 013202-1-013202-10. © 2007 American Physical Society