One of the First Real-World Quantum Computer Applications Was Just Realized

This is one of the first real-world quantum computer applications.

7. 20. 16 by Jolene Creighton
sakkmesterke/Shutterstock.com
Image by sakkmesterke/Shutterstock.com

Quantum computing, if it is ever realized, will revolutionize computing as we know it, bringing us great leaps forward in relation to many of today’s computing standards. However, such computers have yet to be fabricated, as they represent monumental engineering challenges (though we have made much progress in the past ten years).

Case in point, scientists now assert that, for the first time ever, using this technology, they have made a scalable quantum simulation of a molecule. The paper appears in the open access journal Physical Review X.

Understanding Quantum Computing

If you aren’t farmilar with them, quantum computers are not limited to the binary code bits, unlike the computers that are in use today. Instead, they are governed by qubits that have more states: 0, 1, and a superposition between the two. This means that more calculations can be performed simultaneously.

And this makes them perform much faster than today’s computers.

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The Latest Discovery

While the world waits for the first real quantum computer, some scientists are already working on focusing on specific problems that quantum computers could tackle (as opposed to building a full scale one).

That’s where this latest research comes in.

Scientists at Google, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, Tufts University, UC Santa Barbara, University College London and Harvard University teamed together to try and take on the molecular electronic structure problem, which deals with locating the lowest electron energy configuration of a given molecule.

On traditional computers, this can take days. But not on a quantum computer.

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For their work, the the team used a “Xmon” supercooled qubit quantum computing circuit. The device is known as a VQE, or a “variational quantum eigensolver.” This is basically the quantum equivalent of a classic neural network. Ultimately, this allowed them to use quantum bits to represent molecular wave functions. An image of it is shown below.

UCSB/Erik Lucero

Once it was created, they tested it by computing the energy of a hydrogen molecule. Notably, their results closely matched results that were previously found using classical computers.

Ultimately, the team is working to create a quantum computer that is capable of doing much more than computing single molecule energies, but is able to compute entire chemical systems.


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