Physicists create mind-blowing new phase of matter that acts as if it has two time dimensions

Physicists create mind-blowing new phase of matter that acts as if it has two time dimensions

Abstract phases of time travel physics

Physicists have created a remarkable and unprecedented phase of matter in a quantum computer.

Physicists have demonstrated a way to store less error-prone quantum information by subjecting qubits in a quantum computer to quasi-rhythmic laser pulses based on the Fibonacci sequence.

Physicists have created a remarkable, never-before-seen phase of matter by beaming a sequence of laser pulses inspired by the Fibonacci sequence onto atoms inside a quantum computer. Although there is still only one singular time stream, the phase has the advantages of two time dimensions, physicists reported July 20 in the journal Nature.

This mind-boggling property offers a highly desirable advantage: the information stored in the phase is much better protected against errors than with the alternative configurations currently used in quantum computers. As a result, information can exist much longer without being scrambled, an important step in making[{” attribute=””>quantum computing viable, according to study lead author Philipp Dumitrescu.

The approach’s innovative use of an “extra” time dimension “is a completely different way of thinking about phases of matter,” says Dumitrescu, who worked on the project as a research fellow at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Quantum Physics in New York City. “I’ve been working on these theory ideas for over five years, and seeing them come actually to be realized in experiments is exciting.”

Quantum Computer Two Time Dimensions

In this quantum computer, physicists created a never-before-seen phase of matter that acts as if time has two dimensions. The phase could help protect quantum information from destruction for far longer than current methods. Credit: Quantinuum

Together with Andrew Potter of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Romain Vasseur of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Ajesh Kumar of the University of Texas in Austin, Dumitrescu spearheaded the theoretical component of the research. A team headed by Brian Neyenhuis conducted the experiments on a quantum computer at Quantinuum in Broomfield, Colorado.

Ten atomic ions of the element ytterbium serve as the workhorses of the team’s quantum computer. Each ion is individually held and controlled by electric fields produced by an ion trap and can be manipulated or measured using laser pulses.

Each of those atomic ions function as what physicists dub a quantum bit, or ‘qubit.’ As opposed to conventional computers that quantify information in bits (each representing a 0 or a 1), the qubits used by quantum computers leverage the strangeness of quantum mechanics to store even more information. Just as Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive in its box, a qubit can be a 0, a 1, or a mashup — or ‘superposition’ — of both at the same time. That additional information density and the way qubits interact with one another promise to allow quantum computers to solve computational problems far beyond the reach of traditional computers.

Penrose Tiling Pattern

The Penrose tiling pattern is a type of quasicrystal, which means that it has an ordered yet never-repeating structure. The pattern, composed of two shapes, is a 2D projection of a 5D square lattice.

However, there’s a big problem: Just as peeking in Schrödinger’s box seals the cat’s fate, so does interacting with a qubit. And that interaction doesn’t even have to be deliberate. “Even if you keep all the atoms under tight control, they can lose their quantumness by talking to their environment, heating up or interacting with things in ways you didn’t plan,” Dumitrescu says. “In practice, experimental devices have many sources of error that can degrade coherence after just a few laser pulses.”

Therefore, the challenge is to make qubits more robust. To do that, physicists can use ‘symmetries,’ which are essentially properties that hold up to change. (For example, a snowflake has rotational symmetry because it looks the same when rotated by 60 degrees.) One method is adding time symmetry by blasting the atoms with rhythmic laser pulses. This approach helps, but Dumitrescu and his collaborators wondered if they could go further. So instead of just one time symmetry, they aimed to add two by using ordered but non-repeating laser pulses.

The best way to understand their approach is by considering something else ordered yet non-repeating: ‘quasicrystals.’ A typical crystal has a regular, repeating structure, like the hexagons in a honeycomb. A quasicrystal still has order, but its patterns never repeat. (Penrose tiling is one example of this.) Even more mind-boggling is that quasicrystals are crystals from higher dimensions projected, or squished down, into lower dimensions. Those higher dimensions can even be beyond physical space’s three dimensions: A 2D Penrose tiling, for instance, is a projected slice of a 5D lattice.

For the qubits, Dumitrescu, Vasseur, and Potter proposed in 2018 the creation of a quasicrystal in time rather than space. Whereas a periodic laser pulse would alternate (A, B, A, B, A, B, etc.), the researchers created a quasi-periodic laser-pulse regimen based on the Fibonacci sequence. In such a sequence, each part of the sequence is the sum of the two previous parts (A, AB, ABA, ABAAB, ABAABABA, etc.). This arrangement, just like a quasicrystal, is ordered without repeating. And, akin to a quasicrystal, it’s a 2D pattern squashed into a single dimension. That dimensional flattening theoretically results in two time symmetries instead of just one: The system essentially gets a bonus symmetry from a nonexistent extra time dimension.

Actual quantum computers are incredibly complex experimental systems, though, so whether the benefits promised by the theory would endure in real-world qubits remained unproven.

Using Quantinuum’s quantum computer, the experientialists put the theory to the test. They pulsed laser light at the computer’s qubits both periodically and using the sequence based on the Fibonacci numbers. The focus was on the qubits at either end of the 10-

Reference: “Dynamical topological phase realized in a trapped-ion quantum simulator” by Philipp T. Dumitrescu, Justin G. Bohnet, John P. Gaebler, Aaron Hankin, David Hayes, Ajesh Kumar, Brian Neyenhuis, Romain Vasseur and Andrew C. Potter, 20 July 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04853-4

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