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Published on 24 November 2008

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Computer promises drug breakthrough


Impossibly complex simulations of life-changing chemical reactions might become possible with the help of quantum computers, according to US scientists.

As the size of a system grows, the computational resources required to simulate it grow exponentially, which before long would exhaust the world’s computational power.

But a quantum computer would complete the steps necessary to simulate a chemical reaction in a time that does not increase exponentially with the reaction’s complexity.

Using entanglement, interference and superposition, it has the potential to solve certain problems that are impossible for conventional computers.

Researchers at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Haverford College, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describe software that could simulate chemical reactions on quantum computers.

Says Ivan Kassal, a graduate student in chemical physics at Harvard: “Being able to predict the outcomes of chemical reactions would have tremendous practical applications.

“A lot of research in drug design, materials science, catalysis, and molecular biology is still done by trial and error. Having accurate predictions would change the way these types of science are done.”

Copyright Press Association 2008

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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