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Unleashing The Power Of Quantum Computing: The Imperative For Application Research

Jul 17, 2023

As we approach the era of quantum advantage, where quantum computers outperform classical computers for specific tasks, exploring how we can harness the potential of quantum computing and algorithms for real-world applications becomes crucial.

Among the industries eagerly anticipating the impact of quantum computing, material science and drug discovery hold immense promise. However, transitioning from quantum computational advantage to practical implementation won’t be a walk in the park and will require addressing complementary challenges. Without dedicated research into practical applications, we risk having powerful quantum computers sitting idle while companies are still unprepared to adopt them.

This article will delve into the essential requirements for quantum computers and algorithms to become useful in these fields. It will highlight the significance of focused application research in driving advancements in quantum technology.

Unleashing quantum potential In material science and drug discovery

Material science, at the forefront of innovation, presents abundant opportunities for leveraging quantum computing. By delving into the atomic and molecular levels, material scientists strive to enhance properties and functionalities. Advanced alloys, nanomaterials or topological materials are just a few examples of materials defined by quantum behavior and therefore offer exciting avenues for exploration.

Another promising industry for a quantum advantage is the pharmaceutical industry. The industry faces significant challenges in the drug discovery process, with escalating costs and time requirements. Accelerating the virtual screening of potential drugs in an expanding chemical space is imperative.

Both industries are heavy users of molecular and material simulation. Approximate solutions like density functional theory (DFT) are invaluable for exploring and designing drugs and materials and can model many desired properties. However, other simulating other chemical features can be more challenging. In material science, for example—which approximates solutions of charge transfer processes, photochemical reactions and catalytic reactions—often fails to capture the underlying quantum physics determinative for the material’s behavior. In many cases, these characteristics are defined by electron dynamics and, in some cases, strong many-electron correlations, which is notoriously difficult for classical solvers.

This is where a potential quantum advantage comes in. As we scale up the power of quantum computers, simulating electron dynamics is one area in which scientists hope for a quantum computational advantage.

Still, material scientists and pharmaceuticals aspire to understand higher-level questions such as material behavior and performance or potency and selectivity of candidate drugs. Simulating electron dynamics for small systems alone is insufficient to answer these questions. On the other hand, the genuine quantum effects that determine the behavior of some materials or molecules make quantum computers an attractive tool. Therefore, we’ll likely need a combination of quantum and classical computers and solvers to answer these questions.

The urgent need for application research

To make quantum computers useful, despite all their limitations, we must emphasize the criticality of extensive application research. Applied research goes beyond developing isolated quantum algorithms. It focuses on identifying applications that can genuinely benefit from a quantum approach and integrating quantum technologies into existing computational workflows. Note that this will not be easy. It must deal with complex matters in an interdisciplinary environment of quantum information scientists, domain knowledge experts and business owners. It must deal with the limits of today’s quantum computers while building tomorrow’s applications, all with uncertain specifications and timelines.

However, if done well, it will usher companies into the era of quantum computing. It will allow companies to benefit from quantum computers as soon as they’re available. In the first place, by developing the right capabilities and knowledge. Given the steep and interdisciplinary learning curve, companies should expect several years before becoming quantum-ready.

However, with the high pace of current developments, that time might be now. Benefits go beyond capability and knowledge development, too. Essential technologies must be developed to integrate quantum computing into workflows. Additionally, application research serves as a compass for the quantum industry. By understanding the computational requirements companies face, they can influence the direction of research and guarantee systems support industry requirements.


As we inch closer to quantum advantage, the pressing question arises: How do we make quantum computing truly useful? While numerous companies are exploring quantum computing, the percentage of them publishing their findings remains minimal. This highlights the urgent need for dedicated teams comprised of chemists, material scientists and computational experts to bridge the gap between theoretical advancements and practical applications. If we want to prevent the transformative power of quantum computing from going unused while companies are still getting ready, then initiating application research today is key.

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Meet the author

Julian van Velzen