What sort of computer can evaluate 67 million potential solutions in 13 seconds? Only a quantum computer. But what sort of problem has 67 million solutions to begin with?
Many manufacturing challenges do, from optimizing supply chain logistics to finding the most efficient way to load millions of pallets. In recent years, another mind-bendingly complex problem has begun to occupy the industry: how to get potentially dangerous chemicals in a category known as PFAS out of use and out of our environment.
Quantum computing firm D-Wave says that quantum holds the key, as its massive computing power could find new ways to remove or remediate the chemicals, or even help identify which of the thousands of chemicals in this class are indeed dangerous. We recently spoke to D-Wave Global Government Relations and Public Affairs Leader Allison Schwartz to get the details.
How it works: As Schwartz explains it, quantum is “a completely different form of computing.”
- “Due to superpositioning and quantum entanglement, quantum can look at all possibilities at once and come back with an answer very quickly,” she added.
- However, some of the best solutions are a product of both classic computers and quantum, an option known as “hybrid” applications. For example, Davidson Technologies collaborated with D-Wave to create a hybrid solution that produced the aforementioned 67 million scenarios in 13 seconds.
- “Classical computing alone can’t do that,” Schwartz observed.
When quantum meets PFAS: So how does this help with PFAS? Schwartz told us that there are two different types of quantum computing that would prove useful.
- The first, annealing quantum computing systems, are superior at providing optimized solutions. These systems can quickly run through millions of scenarios that model potential chemical spills, methods of remediating the chemicals, techniques for removing them from operations entirely and much more. These systems are commercially available today through the cloud.
- Meanwhile, gate model systems offer another avenue for dealing with PFAS—they can potentially invent alternative molecules that could substitute for the dangerous chemicals. However, gate-model systems are not large enough yet to tackle real-world problems.
Doing the research: Quantum could also play a role in determining which chemicals are harmful in the first place, added Schwartz. There are thousands of PFAS chemicals out there, but so far, only a few hundred have been studied.
- To examine the effects of various chemicals, researchers and companies will have to undertake clinical trials. Quantum can help optimize the organization of those trials, as well as aid in analyzing the results—for example, by assisting with medical imaging reconstruction .
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