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Quantum computing firm gets $17 million in cash

D-Wave Systems gets more cash, but it's still in experimental mode and continues to have some skeptics.

D-Wave Systems has received $17 million to see if it's possible to compute complex equations by studying the behavior of molecules.

International Investment and Underwriting of Dublin led the round, which was the third round of funding for the Vancouver-based company. Draper Fisher Jurvetson (which always seems to be involved in wacky sorts of companies), GrowthWorks Capital, BDC Venture Capital, Harris & Harris Group, and British Columbia Investment Management also participated. Previously, the company raised more than $30 million.

These coils of wire generate a magnetic field for computing. D-Wave Systems

Quantum computers, which researchers have experimented with for years but which haven't yet existed outside of the laboratory, are radically different than today's electronic computers. D-Wave's computer is based around a silicon chip that houses 16 "qubits," the equivalent of a storage bit in a conventional computer, connected to each other. Each qubit consists of dots of the element niobium surrounded by coils of wire.

When electrical current comes down the wire, magnetic fields are generated, which, in turn, causes the change in the state of the qubit. Because scientists understand how niobium will react to magnetic fields and calculate the exact pattern and timing of the magnetic fields created, the pattern of changes exhibited by the niobium can then be translated into an answer that humans can understand.

Because of its inherent properties, D-Wave's computer is optimized for running complex and oftentimes consuming simulations--for example, what happens when different variables are changed in an ornate financial model, or how different proteins interact with various synthetic, simulated pharmaceuticals.

IBM is also examining ways to harness the power of atomic-level magnetic fields for computing.

D-Wave demonstrated its Orion about a year ago at the Computer History Museum and later at a supercomputing conference in Reno, Nev. And it has to be stated that D-Wave has some severe skeptics.

"Over the last year, rather than answering scientists' questions about what, if anything, they've actually done that's novel, they seem to have descended ever further into the lowest kind of hucksterism," said Scott Aaronson, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in November.