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Exercise 4: Lattice Expansion in the Quasi-Harmonic Approximation

Estimated total CPU time: 35 min


In the following exercises, computational settings including the reciprocal space grid (tag k_grid), the basis set, and supercell's size, have been chosen to allow for a rapid computation of the exercises in the limited time and within the CPU resources available during the tutorial session. Without loss of generality, these settings allow to demonstrate trends of the lattice dynamics of materials. In the production calculation, all computational parameters should be converged.

In this exercise, you will:

  • Perform phonon calculations in supercells with different volumes.
  • Learn how to use the harmonic vibrational free energy to determine the lattice expansion.

We are going to inspect how the thermal motion of the atoms at finite temperatures can lead to an expansion (or even a contraction) of the lattice. For an ideal harmonic system, which is fully determined by the dynamical matrix \(D_{IJ(\mathbf{q})}\) defined in Eq. (3), the Hamiltonian (cf. Eq. (1)) does not depend on the volume. This also implies that the harmonic Hamiltonian is independent of the lattice parameters, and as a consequence of this, the lattice expansion coefficient:

\[ \alpha(T) = \frac{1}{a}\left(\frac{\partial a}{\partial T}\right)_{p} \]

vanishes3. To assess the lattice expansion, it is thus essential to account for anharmonic effects. In this exercise, we will use the quasi-harmonic approximation for this purpose 2, 5: In the quasi-harmonic approximation, the free energy of solid is given by the total DFT energy of the electronic system and the vibrational free energy of the nuclei:

\[ F(T, V) = E_\text{DFT} (V) + F^\text{ha}(T, V)~. \]

This means that our task it not to minimize the total energy with respect to the volume as you have learned it in Tutorial II by using the Murnaghan equation of state. Instead, we minimize the free energy \(F(T,V)\) with respect to volume. This needs to be done for each temperature of interest because of the temperature dependence of the vibrational free energy term \(F^\text{ha}(T, V)\). So what we need to do is:

  • Compute the phononic properties for slightly expanded and reduced system sizes.

  • find the lattice constant minimizing the free energy \(F(T, V)\) at a given temperature \(T\) using the Murnaghan equation of state.

Our procedure will be as follows: First, we generate input files for Phonopy calculations at different volume. We will use a Python script for this called, which you find in the folder:


Once the script is executed, it should create 5 working directories:


In each of those you will find three input files: ,, and We now need to perform a Phonopy calculation, the Phonopy postprocess, and the reference FHI-aims calculation in each of the folders. We provide a bash script for this purpose that you can run with:


Please, inspect the script and understand what it does. As a task: remove every line that is not necessary to perform the actual calculations and save as How many lines do you need?

Once you have computed all the thermal property files in the respective folders, we have a good dataset for vibrational free energy term \(F^\text{ha}(T, V)\).

We start to perform the post-processing by extracting the total energies from the aims calculations that are stored in the trajectory files qha*/aims/trajectory.son. The script will read the trajectories in, extract the ase.Atoms object from there, read total energy and volume from it, and save them to a file e-v.dat.


We can now use this information to plot a \(E\) vs \(V\) curve and fit it to a Murnaghan equation of state. Phonopy  is shipped with a set of scripts to facilitate certain tasks. We will use the script phonopy-qha to perform the fitting1.

To fit the data, type:

phonopy-qha -b e-v.dat --eos murnaghan

This tells phonopy-qha to perform a Murnaghan fit on the data contained in e-v_total.dat (similar to Tutorial II, where you used the script). The script will return the minimal volume, energy, and bulk modulus:

phonopy-qha -b e-v.dat --eos murnaghan
    > # Murnaghan EOS
    > Volume: 39.959179
    > Energy: -15748.028571
    > Bulk modulus: 94.182465
    > Parameters: -15748.028571 0.587840 4.587242 39.959179

If you run the script with the argument -p, it will also display a plot of the energy vs. volume data points and the line obtained from fitting the equation of state. Please try this.

We are ready to perform the final step of the quasi-harmonic analysis! Please create the directory QHA (mkdir QHA) and change to it (cd QHA). From within this directory, call:

phonopy-qha ../e-v.dat ../qha_*/phonopy/output/thermal_properties.yaml -p -s

This will create a bunch of files


and a plot displaying several free energy vs. volume curves at different temperatures, as well as the volume and lattice expansion coefficients vs. temperature as shown below.

Zoom into the plot displaying the \(F\) vs. \(V\) curves (helmholtz-volume.dat) on the left panel and take a look at the minimum of the uppermost curve marked in red. The uppermost curve corresponds to 0 K temperature. What do you observe? Alternatively you can compare the minimal volume you obtained from the Murnaghan fit to the volume you find in QHA/volume-temperature.dat when you go to the first line (0 K). Can you explain why the 0 K volume changes slightly when you include the vibrational free energy?

Another interesting feature is the negative lattice expansion of Silicon below room temperature. Do you have an explanation for this? 4