Microsoft says new computing service for chemicals can slash R&D time

A man stands inside the Microsoft Experience Center in New York City

By Stephen Nellis

Microsoft Corp on Wednesday introduced a new computing service aimed at helping chemical companies speed up the research and development of new materials.

Azure Quantum Elements, as the service is called, relies on computing power to help chemical companies simulate huge numbers of possible combinations of atoms. The point is to use computers to explore possible new materials virtually and then simulate how those materials would interact with the real world.

The new offering uses a combination of existing quantum computers, artificial intelligence and conventional high-performance computing systems.

In a press release, Microsoft said that the system has helped some early customers speed up their development processes by as much as six months. Microsoft said that BASF, AkzoNobel, AspenTech, Johnson Matthey, SCGC and 1910 Genetics have been testing the system.

"Our goal is to compress the next 250 years of chemistry and materials science progress into the next 25,” Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella said in a press announcement.

Microsoft also said it will offer a version of Copilot - its artificial intelligence system that helps software developers write code - that is specifically tailored for scientists looking to use its services.

The company also said that it had hit a milestone in developing its own quantum computer, saying it now has the ability to create and control a quantum particle called a Majorana fermion. Microsoft said it was also publishing a scientific paper on the milestone but gave few other details ahead of its announcement.

(Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Kim Coghill)