Physicists have created a strange phase of matter with two dimensions of time

Through the viewing glass: The world of quantum physics and quantum computing presents a challenge for most people to get around. I’ve read quite a few books on these topics, but the research I’m about to report is on my mind. Somehow, scientists have created a new phase of matter with two-dimensional time.

Scientists at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Quantum Physics in New York City have created an unprecedented new phase of matter. The peculiarity of this is that atoms have two dimensions of time despite their presence in the unique flow of time. The team published their study in the journal Nature on July 20.

Physicists created this strange phase of matter by firing a laser with a pulse based on the Fibonacci sequence of atoms used inside a quantum computer. They assert that this could be a breakthrough in quantum computing because it can protect stored information from errors that occur in current methods of quantum storage. Data degradation still occurs but at a much slower rate.

The paper’s lead author, Philip Domitrescu, said he’s been working on the theory behind the science for more than five years, but this is the first time it has been “verified” in practical experiments.

“[This dynamical topological phase] It’s a completely different way of thinking about the phases of matter,” Domitrescu told

Must Read: Quantum Computing Explained

The researchers realized their theory by flipping ions of an element in quantum computers called ytterbium. When they hit the ions in a standard repeating pattern (AB, AB, AB…), the resulting qubits remained quantum for 1.5 seconds, which they note is an amazing improvement.

However, when they blasted the ions with a Fibonacci pulse (A, AB, ABA, ABAAB, ABAABABA…), the qubits remained in a supernatant state for 5.5 seconds. The results are impressive, considering the average lifetime of a qubit is about 500 nanoseconds (0.00000005 of a second). This short life is because the qubit leaves its superlative state (where it exists at the same time as 1 and 0) whenever it is observed or measured. Even interactions with other qubits are enough to destroy this quantity.

“Even if you keep all of the atoms under tight control, they can lose their quantity by talking to their environment, heating up or interacting with things in ways they didn’t plan for,” Domitrescu said. “In practice, experimental devices contain many error sources that can degrade coherence after a few laser pulses.”

It’s pretty hard for normal people to wrap their heads around the physics behind it, but it’s illustrated in the Penrose tiling pattern above. Like typical crystals, this quasi-crystal has a stable lattice but with a structure that never repeats. This pattern is a 2D representation of a 5D square grid.

The researchers wanted to create a similar symmetrical structure, but instead of building it in space, they built it in time. Physicists have used a pulsed Fibonacci laser to create a higher-dimensional qubit that has “time symmetry.” When “squeezed” into our four-dimensional world, the resulting qubit has two dimensions of time. This extra dimension somewhat protects the qubit from quantum decay. However, it is applied only to the outer “edges” of the 10-ytterbium-ion chain (1st and 10th qubits).

“With this quasi-periodic sequence, there is a complex evolution that eliminates all the errors that live on the edge,” Domitrescu said. “Because of that, the edge stays quantum mechanically coherent a lot, much longer than you’d expect.”

Although physicists have proven that this technique creates more powerful qubits, they admit that they still have a lot of work to do. This new phase of matter could lead to long-term storage of quantum information, but only if they could somehow integrate it into a quantum computer.

“We have this straightforward and impressive app, but we need to find a way to link it to the accounts,” Domitrescu said. “This is an open problem that we are working on.”

Image credit: Quantinum

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