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As cool as they sound, quantum computers will probably not be best suited for designing websites or making pretty word processors. Instead, their quirky bits may one day be used to solve special algorithms, for artificial intelligence applications, or to model things that actually follow the wild rules of quantum physics. One day.

IBM scientists now report using a simple quantum computer to solve some bigger science problems: They’ve modeled the chemistry of atoms larger than the simplest two, hydrogen and helium. Researchers hope that one day, these kinds of computers will be able to simulate even larger molecules, something that could have important applications in discovering new drugs. We’re still in the early stages of quantum computing and it’s likely competitors will beat out this research soon, but the new work is certainly an advance.

The researchers’ experiments demonstrate that a special kind of quantum physics problem solver “implemented on a six-qubit superconducting quantum processor is capable of addressing molecular problems beyond period I elements,” like hydrogen and helium, “up to BeH2,” beryllium hydride, according to the paper published online yesterday in the journal Nature.

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