Prof. Alessandro Lunghi from the School of Physics and the CRANN institute of Trinity College Dublin, in association with AMBER, the SFI Research Centre for Advanced Materials and Bioengineering research, has demonstrated that the dynamics of molecular spin can be fully predicted by the laws of quantum mechanics. This is a breakthrough discovery, as scientists in the field have debated how molecular motion affects spin for almost a century. The research provides a significant step to solving the mystery while paving the way for novel technologies. The findings have been published in Science Advances — an international peer-reviewed journal — as the result of a research study funded by the European Research Council.

Spin is a fundamental property of atoms and molecules that confers them magnetic properties. Detecting spin is fundamental to many modern technological devices, such as MRI machines and computer memories. However, scientists can often only observe it for a very short time. This is because the noise generated by molecular motion disrupts the spin in a complex and unpredictable way. Prof. Lunghi’s research shows that this noise can be predicted by solving the equations of quantum mechanics on a supercomputer.

This new understanding of molecular spin is a milestone in the field of quantum science — researchers can now attempt to design novel materials that will minimise the noise of molecular motion and, ultimately, create new quantum technologies.

“Designing a new material is no simple task, as the number of molecules that can be in principle synthesised in a lab is astronomically large,” Prof. Lunghi has said, “My group at TCD is currently developing computational algorithms based on artificial intelligence in order to speed up this process. We are now working on combining our new understanding of molecular spin with machine learning, in order to solve this outstanding challenge.”