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Quantum Chemistry Comes of Age

Quantum computers are now capable of simulating the behaviour of atoms and molecules.

There’s no shortage of scientists waiting to get their hands on quantum computers. Cryptographers, in particular, are licking their lips in anticipation.

But there’s another group who are already beginning to benefit from the first few iterations of quantum computing devices: chemists.

Various scientists have pointed out that it is possible to study the properties of a particular quantum system using another controllable quantum system.

This kind of quantum simulation has huge implications for chemistry. No longer would it be necessary to mess around with real atoms, ions and molecules in messy experiments with test tubes and bunsen burners.

Instead it ought to be possible to perfectly simulate what goes on using a quantum computer set up in the right way. That’s the theory anyway. The practice is inevitably more tricky.

But quite remarkable progress has already been made, say Ivan Kassal, James Whitfield and few buddies at Harvard University in Cambridge who review the field.

Quantum computers are still primitive devices (relative to what they are expected to achieve). “In analogy to classical electronics, as of 2010, the implementation of quantum information processors is in the vacuum-tube era,” they say.

But that hasn’t stopped some steady progress. They point to experiments published earlier this in which researchers used quantum optics and nuclear magnetic resonance to simulate various properties of hydrogen molecules. More impressive still is the work of a group using superconducting qubits to simulate the aspects of the way a chaperone protein assists a four-amino-acid peptide that is still in press.

Make no mistake: simulating quantum chemistry on a quantum computer is hard. But it looks as if the field is poised for an explosion of new results. An exciting time to be a quantum chemist.

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/1007.2648 : Simulating Chemistry Using Quantum Computers

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Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

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