When researchers at Google announced last fall that they had achieved “quantum superiority”—a point at which a quantum computer can perform a task beyond the reach of regular computers—some people wondered what the big deal was. The program, which checked the output of a random number generator, was of limited practical value and did not prove that the company’s machine could do anything useful, critics said.

Now, however, Google’s quantum computer has achieved something that could have real-world applications: successfully simulating a simple chemical reaction. The feat points the way toward quantum chemistry, which could expand scientists’ understanding of molecular reactions and lead to useful discoveries, such as better batteries, new ways to make fertilizer and improved methods of removing carbon dioxide from the air.

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