Accounts of Chemical Research

Molecular Quantum Dynamics: A Quantum Computing Perspective

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ConspectusSimulating molecular dynamics (MD) within a comprehensive quantum framework has been a long-standing challenge in computational chemistry. An exponential scaling of computational cost renders solving the time dependent Schrödinger equation (TDSE) of a molecular Hamiltonian, including both electronic and nuclear degrees of freedom (DOFs), as well as their couplings, infeasible for more than a few DOFs. In the Born-Oppenheimer (BO), or adiabatic, picture, electronic and nuclear parts of the wave function are decoupled and treated separately. Within this framework, the nuclear wave function evolves along potential energy surfaces (PESs) computed as solutions to the electronic Schrödinger equation parametrized in the nuclear DOFs. This approximation, together with increasingly elaborate numerical approaches to solve the nuclear time dependent Schrödinger equation (TDSE), enabled the treatment of up to a few dozens of degrees of freedom (DOFs). However, for particular applications, such as photochemistry, the BO approximation breaks down. In this regime of non-adiabatic dynamics, solving the full molecular problem including electron-nuclear couplings becomes essential, further increasing the complexity of the numerical solution. Although valuable methods such as multiconfigurational time-dependent Hartree (MCTDH) have been proposed for the solution of the coupled electron-nuclear dynamics, they remain hampered by an exponential scaling in the number of nuclear DOFs and by the difficulty of finding universal variational forms.In this Account, we present a perspective on novel quantum computational algorithms, aiming to alleviate the exponential scaling inherent to the simulation of many-body quantum dynamics. In particular, we focus on the derivation and application of quantum algorithms for adiabatic and non-adiabatic quantum dynamics, which include efficient approaches for the calculation of the BO potential energy surfaces (PESs). Thereafter, we study the time-evolution of a model system consisting of two coupled PESs in first and second quantization. In a first application, we discuss a recently introduced quantum algorithm for the evolution of a wavepacket in first quantization and exploit the potential quantum advantage of mapping its spatial grid representation to logarithmically many qubits. For the second demonstration, we move to the second quantization framework and review the scaling properties of two alternative time-evolution algorithms, namely, a variational quantum algorithm (VQA) (based on the McLachlan variational principle) and conventional Trotter-type evolution (based on a Lie-Trotter-Suzuki formula). Both methods clearly demonstrate the potential of quantum algorithms and their favorable scaling compared to the available classical approaches. However, a clear demonstration of quantum advantage in the context of molecular quantum dynamics may require the implementation of these algorithms in fault-tolerant quantum computers, while their application in near-term, noisy quantum devices is still unclear and deserves further investigation.


17 Nov 2021


Accounts of Chemical Research