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Microsoft’s plan to scrub carbon out of the atmosphere? Quantum computers

Quantum computers promise to be game-changers in fields where there are enormously complex calculations to be carried out. Hoping to use quantum computing to address one of humanity’s biggest problems — climate change — investigators from Microsoft Research and ETH Zurich have developed a quantum algorithm they say is able to simulate catalytic processes extremely quickly. In doing so, they claim that it could be used to find an efficient method for carrying out carbon fixation, cutting down on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by turning it into useful compounds.

At present, synthetic catalytic processes are discovered using laborious trial-and-error lab experiments. Computer simulations are much faster, but modern computers have a difficult job calculating the properties of very complex molecules. By contrast, Microsoft’s quantum catalytic simulation algorithm reportedly beats existing state-of-the-art algorithms by 10 times; boding well for the transformational possibilities of using quantum computing as a cornerstone of future chemistry.

“Our unique approach pushes the boundaries to deliver the promise of quantum computing and to create unprecedented possibilities for our world,” Matthias Troyer, distinguished scientist at Microsoft Research, told Digital Trends. “Quantum computing is redefining what is possible with technology, creating unprecedented possibilities to solve humanity’s most complex challenges. Microsoft is committed to turning the impossible into reality in a responsible way that brings the best solutions to humanity and our planet.”

Troyer explained that the advancements in algorithms gained from this research will serve as a “springboard for future work.” Microsoft is hoping that it will be able to work alongside the chemistry community to find new ways for quantum computers to help develop new chemical processes, molecules, and, eventually someday, materials. The research is available to read via Microsoft’s blog.

This isn’t the first promising quantum algorithm Digital Trends has covered this month. Recently we wrote about a quantum algorithm that could help revolutionize disease diagnosis. However, like all quantum algorithms, it is going to rely on quantum computers advancing sufficiently in order for researchers to be able to gain the most benefit from it. The hardware this will require is another topic Microsoft discusses in the research paper on this work.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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