Imagine building a home without blueprints or even laying down a simple stone terrace in the garden without taking (and re-taking) exacting measurements and drawing up plans.
One wouldn’t think of heading to the local DIY centre, loading up with a wide range of candidate construction materials, trucking them back and proceeding to fit them together on a whim, all the while hoping for the best outcome in the final product.
A simple sketch of the work at hand, with approximated measurements or dimensional ratios goes a long way to increasing the efficiency of the project to be undertaken, even if it is accomplished on a napkin at the coffee shop.
What simulation and modelling have done for architecture, construction and engineering is now coming to the forefront as a powerful technique to raise the effectiveness of scientific undertakings in the biomedical, molecular, physical and materials sciences.
Importantly, it is also one of the most cost-efficient methods. Savings come in the form of a significantly reduced need for combinatorial and trial-and-error experiments, and may lead to the conclusion that planned equipment purchases are no longer required.
A new era has dawned where scientists may now draw-up highly accurate blueprints and plans for a new molecular terrace or bone-graft scaffolding, on the back of a (slightly) used napkin or computer screen.
Computer modelling techniques, particularly those based on quantum theory, are now able to near-completely reproduce the laws of quantum mechanics for systems containing about 300 to 500 atoms, including phenomena such as quantum tunnelling.
At first glance, this atomic budget may appear limiting and below the molecular size threshold of importance to society, industry, healthcare and education. This myth is quickly dispelled when one begins sizing-up the molecules and materials in our daily lives.
The Centre for Advanced Functional Materials and Devices (CAFMaD) partnership between Bangor and Aberystwyth universities was created for this purpose. Successes include the development of novel industrial catalysts that are less harmful to the environment.
So next time you do the washing up, cook a flavourful meal, raise a glass of wine or marvel at the versatility of plastic, imagine all the particles involved and how they possibly act together as a system. This will be your first step towards employing quantum theory. After that, all you’ll need to test your theories is a napkin and someone to bounce your ideas off.