Date: Mar 29, 2018

‘I really want to see the moment when a cold molecule simulates a molecule,’ said Harvard University theoretical chemist Alán Aspuru-Guzik in a talk at the American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans. Now that researchers have created the first molecules that could work as qubits – quantum-computing analogues of bits – this moment might not be far off.

‘The world seems very classical, but the fundamental rules are quantum mechanical,’ says Duke University engineer and chemist Kenneth Brown. To understand how drugs bind to enzymes or how catalysts do chemical transformations, scientists need to simulate their quantum behaviour. Quantum computers can take on this task without the mathematical shortcuts and approximations needed in classical computing, but there’s a hitch. Building a quantum computer is hard.

The elementary unit of information in a quantum computer, the qubit, is a quantum object that can exist in a state called superposition. ‘What makes a qubit special is that it exists not in the up or down state [of a classical bit], but in the combination of every possible up and down state,’ explains Danna Freedman, a quantum information chemist from Northwestern University, US.

Current efforts to build qubits still rely on conventional computer technology. Freedman and her team are making qubits out of organometallic molecules. She envisions extended networks of such molecules – for example in the form of metal–organic frameworks – could eventually drive quantum computers.

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