What is Quantum Computing?

bdpatoday — According to IBM’s Think Academy, quantum computing has the potential to solve some of the world’s most complex problems. So how are quantum computers different from traditional computers and Macs we are using now?

Bits vs. Qubits
Rather than processing data like an ordinary computer with “bits” that can be either 1 or 0, quantum computers process data with devices called “qubits” that can be 1, 0, or both simultaneously—a phenomenon called “superposition.” This property and another property known as “entanglement” (qubits are not independent of each other and therefore can influence neighboring qubits) gives quantum computers new, unique, and very powerful capabilities for STEM and cyber.

According to the Department of Energy (DOE), quantum computers offer one of the first new ways of computing in more than 60 years. Because there’s a limit to how many transistors fit on a chip, there are physical bounds on how powerful even the best classical computers can be.

Quantum computers should be able to reach well beyond these confines. In particular, simulations on classical computers cannot efficiently simulate quantum systems. These are systems that are so small that they follow the laws of quantum physics instead of classical physics. One example of this type of system is the relationship between electrons in large molecules. How these large electron systems act determines superconductivity, magnetism, and other important phenomena. As Pavel Lougovski, leader of one of three DOE national laboratory projects at Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) said, “I’m interested in understanding how quantum systems behave. To me, there is a no-brainer there.”

icymi010519Quantum computers may be able to solve other currently unsolvable problems across STEM industries as well. Modeling the process by which enzymes in bacteria “fix” nitrogen involves so many different chemical interactions that it overwhelms classical computers’ capabilities. Solving this problem could lead to major breakthroughs in making ammonia production – which uses a tremendous amount of energy – far more efficient. Quantum computers could potentially reduce the time it takes to run these simulations from billions of years to only a few minutes.

A new quantum technology initiative for the United States (bdpatoday | ICYMI 01.05.09) recently was signed in to law.

— Sources: IBM, Department of Energy (DOE), and BDPA

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