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

On the other side of the mirror: The world of quantum physics and quantum computing is challenging for most people. I’ve read a number of books on the subjects, but the research I’m about to report is making my head spin. Somehow, scientists have created a new phase of matter with two-dimensional time.

Scientists at the Center for Computational Quantum Physics at the Flatiron Institute in New York have created a new phase of matter never seen before. The peculiarity of this one is that atoms have two dimensions of time even though they exist in our singular time stream. The team published their study in Nature on July 20.

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

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

“[This dynamical topological phase] is a completely different way of thinking about the phases of matter,” Dumitrescu told

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The researchers realized their theory by emitting ions of an element into quantum computers called ytterbium. When they hit the ions with a standard repeating pattern (AB, AB, AB…), the resulting qubits remained quantum for 1.5 seconds, which they noted as an incredible improvement.

However, when they blew up the ions with a Fibonacci pulse (A, AB, ABA, ABAAB, ABAABABA…), the qubits remained in a super state for 5.5 seconds. The results are remarkable considering that the average lifetime of a qubit is around 500 nanoseconds (0.00000005 of a second). This short lifetime is due to the fact that a qubit leaves its superstate (where it exists simultaneously as 1 and 0) each time it is observed or measured. Even interactions with other qubits are enough to destroy this quantification.

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

The underlying physics is quite difficult for laymen to understand, but it is illustrated in the Penrose tiling pattern above. Like typical crystals, this quasicrystal has a stable lattice but with a structure that never repeats. This pattern is a 2D representation of a 5D square lattice.

The researchers wanted to create a similar symmetrical structure, but rather than building it in space, they built it in time. Physicists have used the Fibonacci pulsed laser to create a higher-dimensional qubit with “time symmetry”. When “squashed” in our 4D domain, the resulting qubit has two dimensions of time. This extra dimension somewhat protects the qubit from quantum degradation. However, it is only applied to the outer “edges” of a series of 10-ytterbium ions (the first and tenth qubit).

“With this quasi-periodic sequence, there is a complicated evolution that negates all the errors that live on the edge,” Dumitrescu said. “Because of this, the edge stays quantum-mechanically consistent for much, much longer than expected.”

Although physicists have demonstrated that the technique creates much more robust qubits, they admit they still have a lot of work ahead of them. This new phase of matter can result in long-term quantum information storage, but only if they can somehow fit it into a quantum computer.

“We have this direct and enticing application, but we have to find a way to integrate it into the calculations,” Dumitrescu said. “It’s an open issue that we’re working on.”

Image credit: Quantinuum

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