From early stone tools to silicon computer chips, materials have defined humankind’s progress. Electrons, discovered in 1897, are chiefly responsible for the physical properties of molecules and materials. The behavior of these charged particles determines why some metals hold an edge whereas others are pliable, why some substances react and others are inert, and why some materials conduct electricity and others insulate.
If scientists could model and predict how large numbers of electrons behave with one another, they could potentially custom-design arrangements of atoms with fantastic properties, such as high-temperature superconductivity, high-density energy storage and high-efficiency hydrogen fuel generation. They might even uncover new properties that defy current understanding.
Overcoming the complexities of the quantum world presents a daunting challenge, which a new research hub aims to meet. The Center for Computational Quantum Physics (CCQ), which launched at the Flatiron Institute in September 2017, is developing the theoretical understanding, algorithms and computational tools needed to bridge quantum mechanics and the behavior of molecules and materials.