Thanks to quantum computing, we now have a fairly precise idea how much energy a hydrogen molecule gives off. Gone are the days when we had to guess this sort of thing by tossing atoms from hand to hand.

A joint research project between chemists at Harvard and physicists at the University of Queensland has yielded a quantum computational program capable of exact measurements at the molecular level. The creators have used it to gauge the energy quotient of hydrogen atoms arranged in several different configurations, something that would be impossible for even the most advanced conventional computer system.

Quantum computers, as you may already know, operate differently from standard binary processors. Instead of storing data as a series of zeroes and ones, quantum computers employ quantum bits, or qubits, which can act as both zeroes and ones simultaneously. This allows a quantum system to perform an almost inconceivably greater number of calculations in the same amount of time — a brute-force advantage that led to the recent breakthrough. (A much more thorough explanation of quantum-computing logistics can be found at Ars Technica.)

While this latest bit of data-crunching is cool for its own sake, it also represents a huge milestone for the quantum approach. Once the technology is a bit more refined and understood by a greater number of people, quantum computers could rewrite the rules for a number of fields, from cryptography to medicine. We like to think that it'll also, one day, allow midway operators to replace the "guess how many jelly beans in the jar" game with "guess how much energy in the hydrogen gas." We've had our eye on that Raggedy Ann doll for a while.

*Photo by tompagenet, used under Creative Commons license.*