Towards the First Demonstration of Quantum Advantage in Material Discovery
New materials can bring tremendous benefits across all industries, from agriculture and construction to telecommunication, aerospace, medicine, the food industry, and the energy sector. However, most of the methods currently used for material discovery are based on trial-and-error procedures that require a significant amount of resources and take plenty of time to develop and implement. A hybrid approach using both classical and quantum devices along with machine learning and artificial intelligence tools – has the potential to bring material discovery to a new level of efficiency and speed.
The entire quantum computing industry is racing to achieve quantum advantage by proving that quantum computers can tackle real-life problems that otherwise cannot be efficiently solved by classic devices. Quantum annealers are a special type of quantum computers, mostly designed to address optimization problems. Applications are currently under development in several areas such as traffic flow optimization, manufacturing and logistic processes, performance, finance and trading algorithms.
In our interview with Dr. Michael Helander, President & CEO of OTI Lumionics, Dr. Helander explains how his team is preparing to demonstrate quantum advantage in materials discovery for the first time. The company uses high-performance computing simulations and machine learning algorithms to develop production-ready materials which are used in the manufacturing process of OLED displays in consumer electronics.
The screening of potential candidates for new materials is done using a combination of classical devices and quantum computing, thus eliminating the need for a wet-lab and the labor-intensive work of synthesizing and testing thousands of variations.
“We are somehow limited by what we can do with supercomputers today. It takes hours or even days to get the result of just one simulation. In the last six months, we have been able to demonstrate that we can start running commercially relevant-sized problems on real quantum hardware and get meaningful results back that outperform what classical hardware is capable of.”
The use of quantum computers significantly speeds up the process, scaling it up from thousands of simulations per week to tenths or hundreds of thousands. Problems are split up in two parts – one involving basic optimization (conducted on classical devices) and a second part – based on a discrete continuous algorithm (Genin, Ryabinkin, and Izmaylov 2019), which is solved on a quantum annealer .
Building up on a strong collaboration with quantum computing providers, OTI Lumionics managed to perform the largest quantum chemistry calculation that was ever done on a quantum annealer. Dr. Scott Genin, Head of Materials Discovery and member of the research team mentioned that their findings will open up new perspectives for the use of quantum annealers and their methodology will allow for systematically improvable quantum chemistry calculations.
More funds are needed to reach a significant breakthrough in quantum computing
However, despite the huge potential of this field, one of the major concerns of scientists and businesses involved in this sector is a potential “quantum winter”; a period marked by a sector decrease in public interest and funding. In turn, this could significantly slow down the advancements and prevent the quantum industry to reach its potential.
Even if the quantum industry is currently flourishing and private and public funds are poured regularly into quantum research projects, Dr. Helander is convinced that by increasing the amount of funds, major breakthroughs would be possible much sooner.
“Think about Twitter. Only this company benefited from investments of over $1.5 billion. Imagine the speed and magnitude of advancements that could take place if quantum computing companies would benefit from similar investments.”
In the last decade, funds allocated by the Canadian government for research and development in the field of quantum computing amounted to approximately $1 billion . Even though these funds were supplemented by private investments, they are still not enough to cover the level of research needed to propel quantum technologies to the next level.
As a founding member of Quantum Industry Canada (a consortium of private companies aiming to bring quantum technologies from the research lab into the industry), OTI Lumionics continues its quest to further develop quantum industrial applications and prove that quantum technologies can significantly increase business performance.
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Genin, Scott N., Ilya G. Ryabinkin, and Artur F. Izmaylov. 2019. “Quantum Chemistry on Quantum Annealers.” ArXiv:1901.04715 [Physics, Physics:Quant-Ph], January. http://arxiv.org/abs/1901.04715.
Sussman, Ben, Paul Corkum, Alexandre Blais, David Cory, and Andrea Damascelli. 2019. “Quantum Canada.” Quantum Science and Technology 4 (2). https://doi.org/10.1088/2058-9565/ab029d.