Researchers at the Australian University of Sydney have made a ground-breaking discovery by using quantum computing to peep into the microscopic realm of chemical reactions at an astoundingly slow rate. Now, by slowing down a simple chemical interaction by an incredible factor of 100 billion times, quantum computers, which are renowned for their capacity to do computations well beyond the capabilities of classical computers, have been used to reveal the hidden complexities of the interaction.
Capturing the genuine core of events in the world of atoms and molecules, where actions take place on a scale of femtoseconds (quadrillionths of a second), has proven to be a persistent difficulty due to their velocity. The study of processes like chemical bonding, where molecules form and break apart in the space of a blink of an eye, has been particularly hampered by this obstacle.
The scientists’ breakthrough was achieved by employing a trapped-ion quantum computer, which was used to map the phenomenon onto a compact quantum device. This manipulation resulted in an unprecedented slowdown, enabling the team to observe and measure the behavior of a single atom encountering a conical intersection—a pivotal aspect of chemical reactions like photosynthesis.
Co-lead author of the study, Vanessa Olaya Agudelo, explained the significance of their accomplishment: “Using our quantum computer, we built a system that allowed us to slow down the chemical dynamics from femtoseconds to milliseconds. This allowed us to make meaningful observations and measurements. This has never been done before.”
Contrary to mere simulations, this breakthrough resembled a controlled experiment within a controlled environment, comparable to the concept of a wind tunnel for studying aircraft aerodynamics. Dr. Christophe Valahu, another co-lead author, emphasized, “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.”
This achievement carries profound implications across various domains. A deeper understanding of these fundamental processes at the molecular level can illuminate paths in materials science, drug development, and solar energy harnessing. Furthermore, it could offer insights into processes influenced by molecular interactions with light, including pollution formation and ozone layer depletion.
This study, which was published in the prestigious journal Nature Chemistry, ushers in a new era of scientific investigation. Scientists are finally solving the secrets of the microscopic world by using quantum computing, opening up new possibilities that may completely alter how we think about matter and energy.