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Quantum chemistry may be a shortcut to life-changing compounds

Technique could ID materials for better solar cells and batteries or more effective medicines

12:00pm, May 29, 2015
Sifting molecules

MOLECULAR PURSUITS  Quantum chemistry could launch a manufacturing revolution, helping to identify materials for improved solar cells, better batteries or more effective medicines.

When Alán Aspuru-Guzik was in college, he really got into SETI@home, the project that uses home computers to speed the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. He was less interested in finding aliens in outer space, however, than in using fleets of computers to search molecular space. He wanted to find chemical compounds that could do intelligent things here on Earth.

SETI@home is a well-known distributed computing project that allows regular people to volunteer their idle computers to sift through reams of data — in this case, radio signals. Aspuru-Guzik, now a theoretical chemist at Harvard University, hopes to harness thousands of home computers to comb through almost every possible combination of atoms.

Sorting all of those chemical combinations and then making and testing each potentially useful molecule could take close to forever. Given the number of elements in the periodic table (118) and the number of ways they could be

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