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A critical examination of compound stability predictions from machine-learned formation energies


Machine learning has emerged as a novel tool for the efficient prediction of material properties, and claims have been made that machine-learned models for the formation energy of compounds can approach the accuracy of Density Functional Theory (DFT). The models tested in this work include five recently published compositional models, a baseline model using stoichiometry alone, and a structural model. By testing seven machine learning models for formation energy on stability predictions using the Materials Project database of DFT calculations for 85,014 unique chemical compositions, we show that while formation energies can indeed be predicted well, all compositional models perform poorly on predicting the stability of compounds, making them considerably less useful than DFT for the discovery and design of new solids. Most critically, in sparse chemical spaces where few stoichiometries have stable compounds, only the structural model is capable of efficiently detecting which materials are stable. The nonincremental improvement of structural models compared with compositional models is noteworthy and encourages the use of structural models for materials discovery, with the constraint that for any new composition, the ground-state structure is not known a priori. This work demonstrates that accurate predictions of formation energy do not imply accurate predictions of stability, emphasizing the importance of assessing model performance on stability predictions, for which we provide a set of publicly available tests.

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