By Amber WilliamsPosted 01.24.2012 at 3:28 pm 21 Comments
Eighty-five years so far. The pitch-drop experiment—really more of a demonstration—began in 1927 when Thomas Parnell, a physics professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, set out to show his students that tar pitch, a derivative of coal so brittle that it can be smashed to pieces with a hammer, is in fact a highly viscous fluid. It flows at room temperature, albeit extremely slowly.
Researchers at Harvard and the University of Queensland have come up with a novel, just-crazy-enough-to-work method for modeling and simulating quantum systems: use a quantum computer. Employing the superior computing power of a custom-built quantum computing system, the researchers were able to determine the precise energy of molecular hydrogen for the first time, an impossible feat using classical computing methods. By doing so, they've opened the box on what could be a computing breakthrough stretching across disciplines.