Quantum computers and the death of chemistry

Quantum chemistry

When it comes to chemistry, computer simulations suck. The best they can do is simulate the electron dynamics of a helium atom, which is almost as simple as it gets. Never mind the rest of the periodic table and how the elements interact with each other.

But that’s gonna change when we get quantum computers, says Ivan Kassal, a chemist at Harvard University. He and a few buddies have worked out that a relatively simple quantum computer could generate an “exact, polynomial-time simulation of chemical reactions”.

It might not be long before we see the fruits of this kinda computation. Kassal calculates that a quantum computer with only 100 qubits could simulate the entire quantum dynamics of a lithium atom, a feat that is beyond all the conventional computer power on the planet right now.That’s impressive and destined to make chemistry even more unpopular than it already is. Who’ll want to mess around with test tubes and bunsen burners when a quantum computer can work out the answer while ya put ya feet up?

So how long before the quantum death of chemistry? That’s hard to say. Physicists are already messing around with quantum comuters that work with 10 quibits, not nearly enough to do anything interesting with yet. So we’ll need an order of magnitude improvement.

Sticking my neck out, I’d say we’ll have 100 quibit quantum computers within 7 years, based on nonlinear optical technology (gulp).

Ref: arxiv.org/abs/0801.2986: Quantum Algorithms for the Simulation of Chemical Dynamics

3 Responses to “Quantum computers and the death of chemistry”

  1. Elia Diodati says:

    That statement is true only if you pretend that there doesn’t exist an entire field of computational chemists who have collectively realized long ago that it’s hopeless to try to solve Schrödinger’s equation by brute force, and have developed quite sophisticated basis-set methods routinely applicable to a rather wide range of chemical problems; and not only do they match experimental observations quite well, in some cases are now considered *more* accurate than experiment.

  2. davesslave says:

    Your previous posts were real rubbish, but this is good. This one is brilliant. Your blog is getting really better.