jueves, 14 de septiembre de 2017

IBM Makes Breakthrough in Race to Commercialize Quantum Computers

Photographer: David Paul Morris
Researchers at International Business Machines Corp. have developed a new approach for simulating molecules on a quantum computer.

The breakthrough, outlined in a research paper to be published in the scientific journal Nature Thursday, uses a technique that could eventually allow quantum computers to solve difficult problems in chemistry and electro-magnetism that cannot be solved by even the most powerful supercomputers today.

In the experiments described in the paper, IBM researchers used a quantum computer to derive the lowest energy state of a molecule of beryllium hydride. Knowing the energy state of a molecule is a key to understanding chemical reactions.

In the case of beryllium hydride, a supercomputer can solve this problem, but the standard techniques for doing so cannot be used for large molecules because the number of variables exceeds the computational power of even these machines.

The IBM researchers created a new algorithm specifically designed to take advantage of the capabilities of a quantum computer that has the potential to run similar calculations for much larger molecules, the company said.

The problem with existing quantum computers – including the one IBM used for this research -- is that they produce errors and as the size of the molecule being analyzed grows, the calculation strays further and further from chemical accuracy. The inaccuracy in IBM’s experiments varied between 2 and 4 percent, Jerry Chow, the manager of experimental quantum computing for IBM, said in an interview.

Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University who was not part of the IBM research, said that the Nature paper is an important step. “The IBM team carried out an impressive series of experiments that holds the record as the largest molecule ever simulated on a quantum computer,” he said.

But Aspuru-Guzik said that quantum computers would be of limited value until their calculation errors can be corrected. “When quantum computers are able to carry out chemical simulations in a numerically exact way, most likely when we have error correction in place and a large number of logical qubits, the field will be disrupted,” he said in a statement. He said applying quantum computers in this way could lead to the discovery of new pharmaceuticals or organic materials.

IBM has been pushing to commercialize quantum computers and recently began allowing anyone to experiment with running calculations on a 16-qubit quantum computer it has built to demonstrate the technology.

In a classical computer, information is stored using binary units, or bits. A bit is either a 0 or 1. A quantum computer instead takes advantage of quantum mechanical properties to process information using quantum bits, or qubits. A qubit can be both a 0 or 1 at the same time, or any range of numbers between 0 and 1. Also, in a classical computer, each logic gate functions independently. In a quantum computer, the qubits affect one another. This allows a quantum computer, in theory, to process information far more efficiently than a classical computer.

The machine IBM used for the Nature paper consisted of seven quibits created from supercooled superconducting materials. In the experiment, six of these quibits were used to map the energy states of the six electrons in the beryllium hydride molecule. Rather than providing a single, precise and accurate answer, as a classical computer does, a quantum computer must run a calculation hundreds of times, with an average used to arrive at a final answer.

Chow said his team is currently working to improve the speed of its quantum computer with the aim of reducing the time it takes to run each calculation from seconds to microseconds. He said they were also working on ways to reduce its error rate.

IBM is not the only company working on quantum computing. Alphabet Inc.’s Google is working toward creating a 50 qubit quantum computer. The company has pledged to use this machine to solve a previously unsolvable calculation from chemistry or electro-magnetism by the end of the year. Also competing to commercialize quantum computing is Rigetti Computing, a startup in Berkeley, California, which is building its own machine, and Microsoft Corp. which is working with an unproven quantum computing architecture that is, in theory, inherently error-free. D-Wave Systems Inc., a Canadian company, is currently the only company to sell

ORIGINAL: Bloomberg
By Jeremy Kahn September 13, 2017

domingo, 10 de septiembre de 2017

15 Really Good Things Happening in Science Right Now

3Dme Creative Studio/Shutterstock.com
Enough bad news, here's the good stuff.

There's no shortage of bad news in the media, but sometimes we spend so much time focussing on nuclear weapons and disappearing seas that we forget there are some incredible things happening in the world of science and technology.

To provide you with some much-needed hope for the future, we've put together a list of some of the best science news of 2017 so far.

1. African wild dogs communicate with each other in the most adorable way ever: sneezes
Scientists have observed African wild dogs in Botswana sneezing at each other in order to cast their vote on whether it's time to get up and go hunting. And, yes, we have video footage:

2. Vaccines have saved the lives of almost 20 million children in poor countries since 2001

3. We're about to cross the 'quantum supremacy' limit in computing
At the 4th International Conference on Quantum Technologies held in Moscow in July, a team of American and Russian researchers announced they'd successfully tested a record-breaking 51-qubit device, taking us closer than ever before to a functioning quantum computer.

4. Scientists might have finally discovered the trigger that kicks off autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body's immune system starts to attack itself, but despite being incredibly widespread, researchers haven't been able to nail down what triggers this strange reaction in the first place.

Now, scientists have identified a chain reaction that could potentially explain why our own bodies can turn against healthy cells, potentially transforming the way we look at autoimmune diseases and the way we treat them.

5. We're finally getting close to achieving sustainable nuclear fusion
Nuclear fusion could be the key to producing almost-unlimited energy with few byproducts other than saltwater, but researchers have long struggled to create a machine that could sustainably control such a powerful reaction.

But that's changing. At the end of 2015, Germany switched on a massive nuclear fusion reactor that's since successfully been able to contain a scorching hot blob of hydrogen plasma.

Das erste Plasma!!! / The first plasma!!! (js) #W7X

They're not the only ones, either, with South Korea and China both achieving record-breaking reactions in their own fusion machines. The UK has also switched on a revolutionary type of reactor that is now sustainably generating plasma within its core.

In fact, one MIT scientist has enthusiastically predicted that thanks to all these new advances, we should be able to get fusion energy on the grid by 2030.

6. Researchers are closer than ever before to having a drug that can treat autism symptoms
A small, but promising clinical trial in the US showed this year that a 100-year-old drug called suramin can measurably improve the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children.

There's a lot more work to be done, but it's the first time we've been so close to having a drug that can potentially treat ASD symptoms. 

7. Scientists have discovered that crystals can be bent
Researchers have shown that crystals - which are traditionally brittle and inflexible - can be so flexible they can be bent repeatedly and even tied up in knots, overhauling our current understanding of the structures and challenging the very definition of a crystal.

The research opens up a whole new class of materials that could revolutionise electronics and technology.


8. You no longer need to pay ridiculous amounts to access peer-reviewed science research
The scientific community is fighting back against crazy paywalls, with a new study showing that more than a quarter of all scientific papers are now available free online thanks to the Unpaywall app.

9. We're getting really close to eradicating the second disease from the planet
First, humans got rid of smallpox. Now we're on the verge of wiping out the Guinea Worm parasite, which is a living nightmare that painfully erupts from people's skin.

At the start of 2015 there were just 126 cases of Guinea Worm left on Earth, mostly thanks to an ingenious and cheap drinking straw filter that stops people from being contaminated via water. As of May this year, there were only nine recorded cases.

L. Grubb/The Carter Centre

10. Finally, schools around the US are pushing back their start times
After numerous studies showing US schools start so early that they're putting a health strain on students, schools around the country are finally beginning to take note and shift their start time from 8.00 am to 8.30 am. And it's working surprisingly well.

11. Scientists think they might be able to reverse Alzheimer's memory loss
Lost memories might not be gone forever. An enzyme that interferes with key memory-forming processes in people with Alzheimer's can now be specifically targeted thanks to the discovery of a protein that helps it do its dirty work, according to new research out of MIT.

12. You could win US$1 million by solving this chess puzzle
Generous scientists are offering a US$1 million prize to anybody who can solve a fiendishly complicated twist on a classic chess problem called the Queen's Puzzle.

The beauty of the challenge is you don't even really need to understand the rules of chess to take part, but the catch is that it's so complicated the researchers predict it could take thousands of years... still, no risk, no reward, right? 

13. We've discovered a vitamin that could reduce the incidence of birth defects and miscarriages worldwide 
In what scientists are calling "the most important discovery for pregnant women since folate", a 12-year study has revealed that women could avoid miscarriages and birth defects by simply taking vitamin B3 during pregnancy.

So far, this effect has only been demonstrated in animal studies, but the results are extremely encouraging and human trials are imminent.

14. Graphene's superconductive abilities have finally been unlocked... 
At the start of this year, researchers finally unlocked the long-rumoured superconductive power of graphene, without having to dope the material.

Since then scientists have found even better ways of turning the wonder material into a superconductor, capable of shuttling electrons with zero resistance.

15. ...And researchers have shown electrons can flow through the material like liquid
Potentially even more impressive: researchers have shown that, through a new technique, electrons can actually flow through graphene like liquid, reaching limits physicists previously thought were impossible. This 'superballistic flow' could prove to be even more effective than superconductivity.

6 SEP 2017

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