You Gotta See What Quantum Technology Just Did for Chemistry!

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New in chemistry, scientists at the University of Sydney have harnessed quantum technology to dramatically slow down a molecular interaction by a factor of 100 billion.

  • Using a trapped-ion quantum computer, researchers slowed down the process to an observable timeframe.
  • This research bridges the gap between incredibly fast molecular interactions and our capacity to comprehend them.

Integrating quantum technology into chemistry, a team based at the University of Sydney successfully decelerated a molecular interaction by a factor of 100 billion, allowing a close-up observation of an event that transpires within femtoseconds (fs).

Allow me to put my almost biochemistry degree to good use here for a second. In layperson’s terms, a chemical reaction occurs when different substances come together, rearrange their atoms, and form entirely new substances with unique properties. Some are slow, like a rusting iron nail, or very fast, like vinegar and baking soda. Some are so fast and combustible, they are literally dangerous, like potassium permanganate and glycerol.

Now, we know how these reactions occur, but we usually can’t actually see what happens at a molecular level, the dynamics of molecular reactions, considering that chemical bonds form and break within quadrillionths of a second. That’s where quantum computing in chemistry comes in.

The researchers employed a trapped-ion quantum computer to map the complex process onto a compact quantum device, ultimately slowing it down to a scale amenable to observation. Check out this beauty!

The team’s focus centered on understanding the behavior of a single atom encountering a geometric structure known as a “conical intersection.” This phenomenon holds significant implications for rapid photochemical processes like photosynthesis (what keeps plants alive) and light-based reactions in human vision (what happens in our eyes when they detect light).

Vanessa Olaya Agudelo, a co-lead author of the study, expressed how using quantum technology in chemistry will inevitably change our knowledge and approaches, saying “It is by understanding these basic processes inside and between molecules that we can open up a new world of possibilities in materials science, drug design, or solar energy harvesting.”

Dr. Christophe Valahu, a co-lead author of the study, stressed the significance of their achievement, stating “Our experiment wasn’t a digital approximation of the process – this was a direct analog observation of the quantum dynamics unfolding at a speed we could observe.”

Thanks to quantum computing, the research, detailed in the journal Nature Chemistry, marks a step in bridging the gap between the minuscule timescales of molecular interactions and our ability to comprehend them.

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