A quantum computer could design your next smartphone

A reaction to make light-emitting materials.

Canadian researchers are using quantum computing simulations to accurately predict the colour of light emitted from molecules that produce the colours we see in the latest smartphones, tablets and TV screens.

Designing complex molecules for electronics and pharmaceuticals is beyond the capabilities of current quantum computers although we are getting closer to building them. Working with Toronto-based OTI Lumionics Inc., UBC chemist Dr. Zac Hudson believes this research could be game-changing for materials design.

“This work establishes a clear practical use for quantum computing, which isn’t to be taken lightly,” Dr. Hudson said. “Our findings open the door to many industrial use cases for quantum computing, from developing better consumer electronics, to better batteries, catalysts and drugs.”

The research—published today in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition—demonstrates that quantum computers have an advantage over standard classical methods in simulating organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display emitter materials. The model the researchers used predicted the properties of these light-emitting materials at least as, or more, accurately than the best classical models, showing that quantum models could soon be used to design bespoke materials with specific properties.

The findings from the collaborative research clearly indicate that quantum computing methods can have a powerful advantage in computational materials design. Currently, most materials are designed by first creating hundreds of molecules in a lab, which are then tested for the desired properties. This synthesis of many materials typically needed to develop a new OLED material with the right color is a very costly and slow process.

“Quantum computing has enormous potential to transform virtually every industry, but there have been little to no demonstrations of their value to date on real industrial problems,” said OTI’s CEO Michael Helander. “In this work, we set out to demonstrate that quantum computing methods could be better at simulating the properties of materials used in the best displays found in consumer electronics.”

Accurate quantum models can be used to more accurately simulate these colors in software, would save time and money, as well as reduce waste, Dr. Hudson said, putting Canadian companies at the forefront of materials design.

“There’s a lot of excitement around quantum computing, and we predict the technology and research will continue to evolve rapidly,” Dr. Hudson said.

"Quantum computing has enormous potential to transform virtually every industry."

Geoff Gilliard