The new research could be a breakthrough in quantum computing.
Physicists have discovered a new state of matter that is breathtaking in its properties. It turns out that in the new state, the matter has two dimensions of time, although there is still only one time as we know it, explains the Simons Foundation.
Although the discovery does not revolutionize our understanding of reality, it offers an advantage that scientists have long sought. Used in a quantum computer, the information in the discovered state would be better protected from various errors. At the same time, the information can exist for much longer, which is one of the important steps toward creating a working quantum computer.
“The second dimension of time is a completely different way of thinking about the aggregates of matter. I have been working on the theory for more than five years and to see how it translates into reality is fascinating,” explains the thesis leader, Philippe Dumitrescu.
Scientists created the new state of matter with a sequence of laser pulses inspired by Fibonacci numbers. The lasers illuminated atoms in a quantum computer. The atoms in the computer were ions of an element called ytterbium. There were 10 of them on the computer and each was individually manipulated by electric fields. Laser pulses were used to measure or manipulate the atoms.
Breakthroughs in quantum computing
The atom has served scientists as a qubit, or in other words a quantum bit. Traditional computers have bits that can have a value of either zero or one. But quantum bits can have either one of these, a combination, or both at the same time. This peculiar feature of the quantum world carries with it the promise of much greater performance than traditional computers have.
The problem is that quantum bits lose their properties by interacting with their environment, albeit unconsciously. So scientists have been thinking about how to make qubits a little more robust. One way was to exploit symmetry. The study’s author thought about creating temporal symmetry by illuminating the atoms with rhythmic laser pulses. But the researchers were looking for something more akin to a quasicrystal, a structure that is ordered but does not repeat.
This method should theoretically lead to the creation of two-time symmetries instead of one. In other words, the system would get the “bonus” of an additional, but non-existent, dimension of time. Although the theory was promising, no one knew if it could hold up in the real world.
In an experiment with 10 ytterbium ions, the researchers were able to keep the ions in a quantum state for 5.5 seconds thanks to the protection provided by the additional time dimension. The researchers explain that this is a strange and rather complicated process in which all the defects that are at the boundary between the normal and quantum states cancel each other out. As a result, the system can exhibit quantum properties for much longer.
The new state of matter could serve as a repository for quantum information in the future. But researchers still need to find a way to link this functionally to the computational side of quantum computers.
The research team is working hard on this problem, however.