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(Left to right) Nick Mayhall, Sophia Economou, and Ed Barnes, all of the Virginia Tech College of Science
Left to right, Nick Mayhall, Sophia Economou, and Ed Barnes.

Physics, chemistry researchers make breakthrough in quantum computing

The large, error-correcting quantum computers that tech experts say will embolden the future are years — make that decades — off, but quantum researchers are nonetheless trying to come up with ways to use existing and near-term quantum processors to solve problems despite limitations due to computer “noise” now. One example: simulated molecular properties that could lead to novel drugs.

Here’s where Ed Barnes and Sophia Economou of the Department of Physics and Nick Mayhall of the Department of Chemistry come in. The trio have devised an algorithm that can more efficiently calculate the properties of molecules on a noisy quantum computer.

In a paper published in Nature Communications, the scientists say their method grows the circuit of a computer in an iterative way. “We start with a minimal circuit, then grow it as we add on logic gate after logic gate in short circuits until the computer finds the solution,” said Mayhall, an assistant professor.

A second major benefit of the algorithm: it adapts itself based upon the molecular system being simulated. Different molecules will dictate their own uniquely tailored circuits. This effort builds on grants to the team from the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy totaling nearly $3 million.

Barnes had another boost this year, winning a $494,000 five-year National Science Foundation CAREER grant to create mathematical models to help understand how electrical currents flow in special compounds that possess an exotic property known as topology. One such material can form amazingly thin sheets one-atom thick and could find future use in solar panels and other technology.

For further reading, visit Virginia Tech researchers lead breakthrough in quantum computing