Topics: Chemistry, Computer Science, Quantum Computer, Quantum Mechanics
Scientists at the University of Sydney have, for the first time, used a quantum computer to engineer and directly observe a process critical in chemical reactions by slowing it down by a factor of 100 billion times.
Joint lead researcher and Ph.D. student Vanessa Olaya Agudelo said, "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.
"It could also help improve other processes that rely on molecules interacting with light, such as how smog is created or how the ozone layer is damaged."
Specifically, the research team witnessed the interference pattern of a single atom caused by a common geometric structure in chemistry called a "conical intersection."
Conical intersections are known throughout chemistry and are vital to rapid photochemical processes such as light harvesting in human vision or photosynthesis.
Chemists have tried to directly observe such geometric processes in chemical dynamics since the 1950s, but it is not feasible to observe them directly, given the extremely rapid timescales involved.
To get around this problem, quantum researchers in the School of Physics and the School of Chemistry created an experiment using a trapped-ion quantum computer in a completely new way. This allowed them to design and map this very complicated problem onto a relatively small quantum device—and then slow the process down by a factor of 100 billion. Their research findings are published August 28 in Nature Chemistry.
"In nature, the whole process is over within femtoseconds," said Olaya Agudelo from the School of Chemistry. "That's a billionth of a millionth—or one quadrillionth—of a second.
"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."
Joint lead author Dr. Christophe Valahu from the School of Physics said, "Until now, we have been unable to directly observe the dynamics of 'geometric phase'; it happens too fast to probe experimentally.
"Using quantum technologies, we have addressed this problem."
Scientists use a quantum device to slow down simulated chemical reactions 100 billion times. University of Sydney, Phys.org.