Unsupervised learning of atomic environments from simple features

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11 Scopus citations


I present a strategy for unsupervised manifold learning on local atomic environments in molecular simulations based on simple rotation- and permutation-invariant three-body features. These features are highly descriptive, generalize to multiple chemical species, and are human-interpretable. The low-dimensional embeddings of each atomic environment can be used to understand and quantify messy crystal structures such as those near interfaces and defects or well-ordered crystal lattices such as in bulk materials without modification. The same method can also yield collective variables describing collections of particles such as for an entire simulation domain. I demonstrate the method on colloidal crystallization, ice crystals, and binary mesophases to illustrate its broad applicability. In each case, the learned latent space yields insights into the details of the observed microstructures. For ices and mesophases, supervised classifiers are trained based on the learned manifolds and directly compared against a recent neural-network-based approach. Notably, while this method provides comparable classification performance, it can also be deployed on even a handful of observed environments without labels or a priori knowledge. Thus, the current approach provides an incredibly versatile strategy to characterize and classify local atomic environments, and may unlock insights in a wide variety of molecular simulation contexts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110511
JournalComputational Materials Science
StatePublished - Aug 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science
  • General Chemistry
  • General Materials Science
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • Computational Mathematics


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