Scientific Applications to Benefit from Quantum Algorithms

Article By : M. Di Paolo Emilio

Quantum computers have long been considered as a technology of the future, but they are becoming an increasingly concrete reality in these years.

Quantum computing represents a paradigm shift in computer technology with a significant impact on scientific research (particularly in the chemical field), medicine, artificial intelligence, and information security. A quantum computer is based on the laws of quantum mechanics for data processing by exploiting the qubit as a fundamental unit (unlike electronic computing with the bit unit).

The quantum bits (qubits) have some properties that derive from the laws of quantum physics such as the superposition of states (they can be simultaneously 0 and 1) which is the base of parallel calculations; the entanglement, that is the correlation (the link) that exists between one qubit and another; quantum interference. The essential difference between a standard computer and the future quantum computer is that a quantum device represents the single unit of binary information instead of being represented by a classic device like a switch (on/off 1/0): for example, an electron with spin up/down. It seems the same thing, but instead, it is something completely different.

Quantum computers have long been considered as a technology of the future, but they are becoming an increasingly concrete reality in these years. Some of the significant computer industries, such as IBM, Google, Intel, and Microsoft, are investing significant capital in research and development, intending to create real processors based on quantum nanotechnologies, and the first prototypes with a few tens of quantum bits (or qubits) are already operational. The expectation lies in the exponential advantage that this new computing paradigm offers compared to classical microprocessors, in particular for some specific applications (figures 1).

Quantum IBM

Figure 1: IBM’s quantum computer [Source: IBM]

The challenges that the quantum computer still faces in order to grow are above all of an engineering type: the critical issues concern the controlled manipulation of atoms and particles (possible with a few qubits but for complex processing hundreds and thousands of qubits are needed), their connection and communication, as well as the development of algorithms suitable for the quantum computer. Their structure is very different from the laptops to which we are now accustomed, but not only in size. Different software and language are needed to exploit these machines. Today there are very few developers who know where to put their hands.

In the short term, since they require relatively few qubits, the most probable applications of quantum computation concern simulations, in particular about systems in turn based on quantum properties. For example, in the chemical-biological field, there are numerous hypotheses, from pharmaceutical research to the creation of new materials, from the analysis of fertilizers to that of energy storage systems.

Algorithms performed on quantum computers could greatly improve the accuracy of photochemical simulations. The ability to design new materials for solar cells, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), and power devices depend on photochemical simulations.

The use of quantum algorithms will be able to explore new materials to be used in light-emitting devices such as organic LEDs for display devices and light energy harvesting such as organic photovoltaics, or to design new photo stabilizing molecules for many applications, ranging from coatings protective for sun protection.

QC Ware is a software company that is working in this direction to make quantum computing easily accessible and offer performance accelerations on hardware. The new approach could push critical commercial applications in chemistry, energy, and electronics. Its high level of competence in quantum algorithms for chemical simulations is exploited to develop classical-quantum hybrid algorithms. QC Ware is working to achieve this goal with one of the most active teams in the world of quantum algorithm scientists of SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory-led research consortium.

"This is a significant initiative that involves not only the development of theoretical algorithms but also the practical distribution of chemical applications," said Robert Parrish, Head of Simulations at QC Ware. "It will promote the design of complete end-to-end workflows for classical-quantum hybrid photochemistry, which could enable greater progress in solving large-scale industrial photochemistry challenges."

Medical applications are an exciting area to start, including the simulation of protein wrapping, the search for new generation drugs, the so-called drug discovery and design processes, all fields in which a higher capacity for simulation dedicated to chemistry could provide essential tools, allowing you to compare much larger molecules. Useful industrial applications could be seen in the field of energy and agriculture.

Also, in the short term, commercial and military applications of information and quantum technologies are being developed for the construction of secure cryptography. The evolution of the research now faces numerous lines, from the scalability of the systems to the correction of errors, from the exploration of the first industrial applications to the creation of frameworks and languages to develop software capable of exploiting the potential of quantum technologies.

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