A strange new phase of matter that seems to span two dimensions of time has been created by scientists in a lab.
They say the discovery could change the way we think about matter and also help create quantum computers that could change the world.
The researchers say the new phase of matter behaved as if it had two time dimensions instead of one, making the qubits that power quantum computers more reliable.
According to experts, they remained stable throughout the experiment – this is one of the main goals of an infallible quantum computer, but also extremely difficult to achieve.
Scientists from the Center for Computational Quantum Physics at the Flatiron Institute in New York have made a new discovery in an amazing way.
They directed lasers that flashed in pulses inspired by the Fibonacci sequence, where each number is the sum of the previous two, at the atoms inside the quantum computer.
The discovery represents “a completely different way of thinking about the phases of matter,” according to computational physicist Philippe Dumitrescu of the Flatiron Institute.
Scientists have created a strange new phase of matter that seems to span two dimensions of time. They say the discovery could change the way we think about matter, as well as help create quantum computers that could themselves change the world.
WHAT IS A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT WITH SCHROEDINGER’S CAT?
Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment created by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935.
He imagined a cat placed in a sealed box containing a bottle of poison, which is opened when a Geiger counter is triggered by the decay of a radioactive sample.
Radioactive decay is a random process, so a radioactive trigger might have, for example, a 50 percent chance of one atom decaying within an hour, releasing poison and killing a cat.
Therefore, in an hour it is impossible, without opening the box, to find out whether the radioactive atom has decayed or not, and, therefore, the cat is alive or dead.
Quantum theory seems to allow for the simultaneous existence of both states, with the atom and the cat existing in a so-called superposition of both possible states.
Only after the system has been measured, for example by opening a box and observing the fate of a cat, does the superposition collapse and one possible outcome is fixed.
Dr. Schrödinger proposed a thought experiment to show the paradoxical nature of superposition when viewed on a larger, non-quantum scale – he didn’t really suggest that a dead and alive cat is taken as a serious possibility.
Nevertheless, the idea of Schrödinger’s cat continues to be a popular way of looking at different interpretations of quantum theory.
“I have been working on these theoretical ideas for more than five years, and it is very interesting to see how they are actually implemented in experiments,” he said.
In the new phase of matter, the stored information is much better protected from errors than in other systems currently used in quantum computers.
This means that information can be stored for much longer, which in turn will make quantum computing more accessible.
Qubits are the quantum equivalent of computational bits. However, while bits process information in one of two states, 1 or 0, qubits can be in both at the same time, a state known as quantum superposition.
This allows the quantum computer to explore all possible outcomes of the decision process.
The device does this by placing them in a quantum “superposition” – a kind of uncertainty in which different potential states occur simultaneously.
It is only when a system is observed or disturbed that it “collapses” into one state or another.
This fundamental pillar of quantum mechanics was illustrated by the famous “Schrödinger’s Cat” thought experiment, in which the cat is neither dead nor alive, but a superposition of both states.
It also gave rise to the “many worlds” hypothesis, the idea that myriad universes coexist in parallel, in which different fates play out.
The mathematical nature of superposition can be incredibly computationally powerful because it solves problems quickly under the right circumstances.
Such technology could change the world by making calculations possible that were almost impossible before.
However, qubits can also get entangled with just about anything, leading to errors.
The more delicate the blurred state of a qubit (or the more chaos in its environment), the higher the risk of it losing this coherence.
Improving this consistency is vital to the development of quantum computers.
“Even if you keep all the atoms under tight control, they can lose their quantumness by talking to the environment, heating up or interacting with things differently than you planned,” Dumitrescu said.
“In practice, experimental devices have many sources of errors that can degrade coherence after just a few laser pulses.”
One way to make qubits more robust is to blow them up with lasers, which add “symmetry” to make them more resistant to change.
The researchers say a strange quirk of quantum mechanics behaves as if it has two time dimensions instead of one, which makes the qubits that power quantum computers more reliable.
However, in the new study, the scientists added not one, but two temporal symmetries, using laser pulses that went in order, but did not repeat.
The theory suggested that this would work, creating a special arrangement in time that added additional symmetry.
Essentially, this would create an extra amount of symmetry and stability borrowed from an extra dimension that doesn’t really exist, and this rationale turned out to be correct when scientists tested it.
Now they will work on integrating the results into functional computers that can rely on strange behavior to really improve quantum computers.
The new discovery was revealed in an article published in the journal Nature.
QUANTUM COMPUTING: WORKING ON THE BASIS OF A SCHEME ON AND OFF SIMULTANEOUSLY
The key to a quantum computer is its ability to operate on a circuit that is not only “on” or “off” but also in a state that is both “on” and “off”.
Although it may seem strange, it all comes down to the laws of quantum mechanics that govern the behavior of the particles that make up an atom.
On this microscale, matter acts in ways that would be impossible on the macroscale of the universe in which we live.
Quantum mechanics allows these extremely small particles to exist in multiple states, known as “superposition”, until they are seen or tampered with.
A scanning tunneling microscope shows a quantum bit of a phosphorus atom precisely located in silicon. Scientists discover how to make qubits talk to each other
A good analogy is a coin spinning in the air. You can’t tell it’s heads or tails until it lands.
The heart of modern computing is binary code, which has served computers for decades.
While a classical computer has “bits” made up of zeros and ones, a quantum computer has “qubits” that can take on the value of zero or one, or even both at the same time.
One of the main stumbling blocks in the development of quantum computers was the demonstration that they could outperform classical computers.
Google, IBM and Intel are among the companies competing to achieve this goal.