Quantum Computing Experiment Leads to a New Phase of Matter That Has Unlocked an Additional Time Dimension
Here’s the thing: the device you’re reading this on kind of sucks.
No, it’s not because you don’t have the latest technology or software update. This is because all computers are pretty inefficient, at least traditional computers. When you take apart a normal computer like your cell phone or laptop down to its most basic part, you get a transistor. It acts like a switch that controls the flow of electrical volts that transmit data, called bits. These bits are usually conceptualized as zeros or ones, where zero is low and one is high. Combine transistors together and you can relay even more complex data.
Transistors are tiny. For example, a transistor in Apple’s M1 chip measures five nanometers. For comparison, a human red blood cell is about 7,000 nanometers wide, and a DNA strand measures 2.5 nanometers. In our quest to make electronics smaller and smaller, however, we will eventually reach a point where we simply cannot make transistors any smaller. At extremely small sizes, the volts sent to transmit data are likely to pass through a transistor whether it is open or closed – a process called quantum tunneling.
“I’ve been working on these theoretical ideas for over five years, and seeing them come to fruition in experiments is exciting.”
— Philipp Dumitrescu, Flatiron Institute
This limits the size of our electronic devices, as well as the power of our computers. If we can’t fit more transistors in a space, then the power of traditional computers hits an operational ceiling.
But there is a way around this: quantum computing.
Instead of relying on your traditional bits – which can only be zeros and ones – a quantum computer instead relies on qubits, which can be both zeros and ones. It’s a state called superposition and it’s what makes quantum computing so powerful. A qubit can store all combinations of ones and zeros that ten bits can store at once. This makes quantum computing more powerful and efficient than normal computers, and without the same size limitations.
There is a catch: qubits are very sensitive. They are so sensitive, in fact, that they can react to each other’s presence in a process known as entanglement. This can allow quantum computers to manipulate the entanglement process until it collapses into a definite result of zero or one. However, qubits can also become entangled with other elements of its environment, which can then create errors and cause qubits to lose their “quantity”.
“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,” said Philipp Dumitrescu. , a researcher at Flatiron’s Institute’s Center for Computational. quantum physics, said in a press release.
Dumitrescu is the main author of a study published in Nature July 20 which revealed a surprising breakthrough in quantum computing. The team wanted to try to stabilize the qubits to prevent them from being affected by their surroundings by zapping them with evenly spaced laser pulses. However, in the process, an entirely new state of matter was created which, according to the authors, had of them time dimensions although there is only one time stream.
It’s a “completely different way of thinking about the phases of matter,” Dumitrescu explained. “I’ve been working on these theoretical ideas for more than five years, and seeing them come to fruition in experiments is exciting.”
To understand phase, you must first understand quasicrystals. Unlike a normal crystal like a hexagon which has a repeating pattern structure, quasicrystals have a non-repeating pattern structure. They also exist in a higher dimension than humans can perceive. Think of it as if you were a 2D cartoon character. You couldn’t see 3D objects like a sphere or a pyramid. Instead, you would conceptualize them as a circle or a triangle. Sure, it may look like a sphere or a pyramid, but it’s not the same thing. Such is our perception of quasicrystals.
A good example of a quasicrystal is a Penrose tiling (see below). While the tile appears as a 2D image, it’s just a projection of a 5D object.
The researchers based the model of their laser pulses on this concept. So instead of having pulses that had a regular pattern, they were inspired by the Fibonacci sequence, which has a non-repeating pattern. When this happened, the system took advantage of it by using two different time dimensions, which resulted in greater stability.
“With this quasi-periodic sequence, there is a complicated evolution that negates all the errors that live on the edge,” says Dumitrescu. “Because of this, the edge stays quantum-mechanically consistent for much, much longer than expected.”
Confused? Do not worry. This is the nature of quantum physics. The results nonetheless offer a promising intrigue in the ongoing effort to refine and stabilize quantum computing. For now, though, it’s probably best to stick with the small size of your cell phone.