Within the nuclear-electronic orbital (NEO) framework, the real-time NEO time-dependent density functional theory (RT-NEO-TDDFT) approach enables the simulation of coupled electronic-nuclear dynamics. In this approach, the electrons and quantum nuclei are propagated in time on the same footing. A relatively small time step is required to propagate the much faster electronic dynamics, thereby prohibiting the simulation of long-time nuclear quantum dynamics. Herein, the electronic Born–Oppenheimer (BO) approximation within the NEO framework is presented. In this approach, the electronic density is quenched to the ground state at each time step, and the real-time nuclear quantum dynamics is propagated on an instantaneous electronic ground state defined by both the classical nuclear geometry and the nonequilibrium quantum nuclear density. Because the electronic dynamics is no longer propagated, this approximation enables the use of an order-of-magnitude larger time step, thus greatly reducing the computational cost. Moreover, invoking the electronic BO approximation also fixes the unphysical asymmetric Rabi splitting observed in previous semiclassical RT-NEO-TDDFT simulations of vibrational polaritons even for small Rabi splitting, instead yielding a stable, symmetric Rabi splitting. For the intramolecular proton transfer in malonaldehyde, both RT-NEO-Ehrenfest dynamics and its BO counterpart can describe proton delocalization during the real-time nuclear quantum dynamics. Thus, the BO RT-NEO approach provides the foundation for a wide range of chemical and biological applications.
Note that a more general definition of proton transfer time would require the proton to form a stable bond with the acceptor oxygen.