A quantum physics breakthrough that can predict the kinetic energy of electrons in simple metalsâ€”and semiconductorsâ€”will enable computers to simulate the behavior of new materials up to 100,000 times faster than they currently can. That's huge.

Princeton engineer Emily Carter led the project, which took an equation by Llewellyn Hilleth Thomas and Enrico Fermi that calculates how many electrons are distributed in a theoretical gas with evenly distributed electrons and figured out how to apply it to real, imperfect materials:

"The equation scientists were using before was inefficient and consumed huge amounts of computing power, so we were limited to modeling only a few hundred atoms of a perfect material," said Emily Carter, Princeton engineer who led the project.

"Important properties are actually determined by the flaws, but to understand those you need to look at thousands or tens of thousands of atoms so the defects are included. Using this new equation, we've been able to model up to a million atoms, so we get closer to the real properties of a substance."

The results of that effort mean that principles of quantum mechanics, previously limited to small bits of matierals, can now be applied on a large scale. Modeling, then, for anything from fuel-efficient cars to electronic devices, will happen exponentially faster than it does today. Innovation just got an upgrade. [Princeton via PopSci]