Google Achieves First Quantum Simulation of a Chemical Reaction

The firm used their Sycamor processor to achieve the reaction.
Loukia Papadopoulos

There's a lot of hype around quantum computers with researchers claiming they have done everything from breaking encrypted devices to reversing time. Still, quantum computers have not found mainstream use just yet and that is because they are simply not practical.


Now, researchers at Google have taken a step forward in quantum computing practicality by using one such computer to simulate a chemical reaction, albeit a simple one, reported New Scientist. The company used its Sycamore computer to achieve this lofty task.

You may remember Sycamore from back in 2019 when the computer completed a task in 200 seconds that Google claimed would take a state-of-the-art supercomputer 10,000 years to finish. With this milestone reached, Google claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy.

Indeed, this new chemical reaction simulation was probably better suited to Sycamore as atoms and molecules are governed by quantum mechanics, making quantum computers the best way to accurately simulate them. In this case, the scientists simulated a diazene molecule undergoing a process where the hydrogen atoms rearranged themselves around the nitrogen ones.

To test that their new simulation was accurate, the researchers performed the same reaction on classical computers. Ryan Babbush at Google told New Scientist that despite the reaction being basic, the new work is a giant step forward for quantum computing.

“We’re doing quantum computations of chemistry at a fundamentally different scale now,” he said. “The prior work consisted of calculations you could basically do with pencil and paper by hand, but the demonstrations we’re looking at now, you’d certainly need a computer to do it.”

He added that from now on scaling the algorithm up to undertake more complex reactions should be fairly straightforward. All that is required is more qubits and small changes to the calculation.

What do you think about this next step in quantum computing? Have scientists finally found a practical use for quantum computers?

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