Quantum computing breakthrough may help us learn about the earliest moments of the universe

(Image credit: Shutterstock / Vadim Sadovski)

The latest breakthrough in the field of quantum computing could pave the way for complex simulations that tell us about the earliest moments of the universe and more.

A team of researchers from the University of Waterloo, Canada, claims to have performed the first ever simulation of baryons (a highly complex type of subatomic particle) on a quantum computer.

To achieve this goal, the researchers paired a traditional computer with a quantum machine in the cloud, and developed from scratch a quantum algorithm that was resource-efficient enough to allow the system to shoulder the workload.

Until now, computers have only been able to simulate the composite elements of baryons (which are made up of three quarks), but the research paper shows it’s possible to perform detailed quantum simulations with many baryons.

Although the science is complex, the broad significance is this: scientists will be able to simulate aspects of physics completely out of reach for traditional supercomputers.

Complex quantum simulations

According to the researchers, the breakthrough represents a landmark step towards overcoming the limitations of classical computing and allowing the massive potential of quantum computers to be realized.

“This is an important step forward - it is the first simulation of baryone on a quantum computer ever,” said Christine Muschik, faculty member at the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC). “Instead of smashing particles in an accelerator, a quantum computer may one day allow us to simulate these interactions that we use to study the origins of the universe and so much more.”

More specifically, researchers will be able to simulate complex lattice gauge theories, which describe the physics of reality. So-called non-Abelian gauge theories are said to be particularly attractive candidates for quantum simulation, as they relate to the stability of matter in the universe.

While the most powerful traditional computers are able to simulate simple non-Abelian gauge theories, only a quantum computer (as has now been proven) can perform the complex simulations necessary to unpack the inner workings of the universe.

“What’s exciting about these results for us is that the theory can be made so much more complicated, added Jinglei Zhang, another researcher at the IQC. “We can consider simulating matter at higher densities, which is beyond the capability of classical computers.”

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.