Scientists create strange new phase of matter that occupies TWO time dimensions: Could be a breakthrough for powerful computers that perform complex tasks
- Odd new phase of matter observed that appears to occupy two time dimensions
- The findings represents a ‘different way of thinking about phases of matter’
- It could also pave the way for powerful quantum computers
A strange new phase of matter which seems to occupy two dimensions of time has been created in a lab by scientists.
The mind-bending discovery could pave the way for quantum computers – powerful machines that use the properties of quantum physics to store data and perform complex computations.
It also represents ‘a completely different way of thinking about phases of matter,’ according to computational quantum physicist Philipp Dumitrescu, of the Flatiron Institute.
A strange new phase of matter which seems to occupy two dimensions of time has been created by scientists. They say the discovery could alter the way we think about matter, while also helping to build quantum computers that could themselves change the world (stock)
WHAT ARE PHASES OF MATTER?
All matter is made from atoms.
Every substance (oxygen, lead, silver etc.) has a unique number of protons, neutrons, and electrons.
Oxygen, for example, has 8 protons, 8 neutrons, and 8 electrons.
Individual atoms can combine with other atoms to form molecules, such as water.
Regardless of the type of molecule, matter normally exists as either a solid, liquid or gas.
This is what is known as the phase of matter.
There are also many less familiar states of matter, including ‘time crystals’.
Researchers have previously demonstrated that these exotic objects constitute their own distinct phase of matter, which is what the experts in this new study were looking at.
Matter normally exists as either a solid, liquid or gas, although there are also many less familiar phases, such as ‘time crystals’.
In lab experiments, physicists shone a pulsing laser at atoms inside a quantum computer. The pattern of pulses was inspired by the Fibonacci sequence – in which each number is the sum of the previous two.
During this process, the researchers created a remarkable, never-before-seen phase of matter. The new state exhibited two time dimensions, despite there still being only one singular flow of time.
The researchers claim that any information stored in this new phase of matter would be much better protected against errors than with any of the setups currently used in quantum computers.
This means information could be kept around for a lot longer, which in turn would make quantum computing much more achievable.
‘I’ve been working on these theory ideas for over five years, and seeing them come actually to be realised in experiments is exciting,’ Dumitrescu said.
Quantum computing is based on qubits, which are the quantum equivalent of computing bits.
Whereas bits process information in one of two states – 1 or 0 – qubits can be both simultaneously.
This extra information density allows quantum computers to examine all possible outcomes of a decision process.
They do this by placing the qubits in a quantum ‘superposition’ — a kind of limbo in which different potential states occur simultaneously.
Only when the system is observed or disturbed does it ‘collapse’ into one state or another.
This fundamental pillar of quantum mechanics was illustrated by the famous ‘Schroedinger’s Cat’ thought experiment, in which a cat is neither dead nor alive but a ‘superposition’ of both states.
It also gave rise to the ‘many worlds’ hypothesis – the idea that a myriad of universes co-exist in parallel in which different fates are played out.
Superposition can be incredibly powerful from a computational standpoint, because it makes short work of problem solving under the right circumstances.
Such technology could change the world by allowing for calculations that would previously have been practically impossible.
Researchers said the weird quirk of quantum mechanics behaves as though it has two time dimensions, instead of one, which in doing so makes the qubits that power quantum computers more robust (stock)
WHAT IS THE SCHRODINGER’S CAT THOUGHT EXPERIMENT?
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 with a bottle of poison that is opened when a Geiger counter is triggered by the decay of a radioactive sample.
Radioactive decay is a random process, so the radioactive trigger could have, for example, a 50 per cent chance of one atom decaying within an hour, releasing the poison and killing the cat.
Therefore, after an hour, it is impossible to know without opening the box both whether the radioactive atom has decayed or not and consequently whether the cat is either dead or alive.
Quantum theory seems to allow for both states to exist at once, with the atom and the cat existing in a so-called superposition of both possible states.
It is only once the system is measured, for example by opening the box and seeing the cat’s fate, that the superposition collapses and one possible outcome is fixed.
Dr Schrödinger had proposed the thought experiment to show the paradoxical nature of superposition when considered on a larger, non-quantum scale — he had not truly intended for the dead-and-alive cat to be taken as a serious possibility.
Nevertheless, the idea of Schrödinger’s cat persists as a popular way to consider different interpretations of quantum theory.
However, qubits can also entangle with just about anything, which introduces errors.
‘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 said.
‘In practice, experimental devices have many sources of error that can degrade coherence after just a few laser pulses.’
One way to make qubits more robust is to blast them with lasers – as the researchers did in the study. This adds ‘symmetries’ that make them more resilient to change.
However, by using pulses of lasers in a Fibonacci sequence to create a special arrangement in time, the scientists added not one but two time symmetries.
They will now work to integrate the findings into functional computers that can rely on the strange behaviour to actually improve quantum computers.
The new discovery has been revealed in a paper published in the journal Nature.
QUANTUM COMPUTING: OPERATING ON THE BASIS OF A CIRCUIT BEING ON AND OFF AT THE SAME TIME
The key to a quantum computer is its ability to operate on the basis of a circuit not only being ‘on’ or ‘off’, but occupying a state that is both ‘on’ and ‘off’ at the same time.
While this may seem strange, it’s down to the laws of quantum mechanics, which govern the behaviour of the particles which make up an atom.
At this micro scale, matter acts in ways that would be impossible at the macro scale of the universe we live in.
Quantum mechanics allows these extremely small particles to exist in multiple states, known as ‘superposition’, until they are either seen or interfered with.
A scanning tunneling microscope shows a quantum bit from a phosphorus atom precisely positioned in silicon. Scientists have discovered how to make the qubits ‘talk to one another
A good analogy is that of a coin spinning in the air. It cannot be said to be either a ‘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’ which can take on the value of zero or one, or even both simultaneously.
One of the major stumbling blocks for the development of quantum computers has been demonstrating they can beat classical computers.
Google, IBM, and Intel are among companies competing to achieve this.