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In physics, a pseudopotential or effective potential is used as an approximation for the simplified description of complex systems. Applications include atomic physics and neutron scattering. The pseudopotential approximation was first introduced by Hans Hellmann in 1934.[1]

The pseudopotential is an attempt to replace the complicated effects of the motion of the core (i.e. non-valence) electrons of an atom and its nucleus with an effective potential, or pseudopotential, so that the Schrödinger equation contains a modified effective potential term instead of the Coulombic potential term for core electrons normally found in the Schrödinger equation.

The pseudopotential is an effective potential constructed to replace the atomic all-electron potential (full-potential) such that core states are eliminated and the valence electrons are described by pseudo-wavefunctions with significantly fewer nodes. This allows the pseudo-wavefunctions to be described with far fewer Fourier modes, thus making plane-wave basis sets practical to use. In this approach usually only the chemically active valence electrons are dealt with explicitly, while the core electrons are 'frozen', being considered together with the nuclei as rigid non-polarizable ion cores. It is possible to self-consistently update the pseudopotential with the chemical environment that it is embedded in, having the effect of relaxing the frozen core approximation, although this is rarely done. In codes using local basis functions, like Gaussian, often effective core potentials are used that only freeze the core electrons.

First-principles pseudopotentials are derived from an atomic reference state, requiring that the pseudo- and all-electron valence eigenstates have the same energies and amplitude (and thus density) outside a chosen core cut-off radius r c {\displaystyle r_{c}} .

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