ACS Spring 2022
Conference paper

Molecular quantum dynamics: a quantum computing perspective


Simulating molecular dynamics 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 (DOF), 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 wavefunction are decoupled and treated separately, enabling the treatment of up to a few dozens of 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. In this talk, I will propose 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. In a first application, I will 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, I will move to the second quantization framework and review the scaling properties of two alternative time-evolution algorithms, namely a variational quantum algorithm (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 favourable 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.