- Could create a different pattern of laser pulses quantum computers much more stable.
- New research uses a Fibonaccia-inspired, non-repeating sequence to keep qubits running.
- This creates a quasicrystal effect, with support in two dimensions instead of just one.
Scientists have trained in new research atoms to show two forms of time at the same time, well, time. Although the phenomenon does not distract time from what you would expect when you go to the clock, matter exhibits behaviors from two different time modes, giving it special properties. Scientists believe this strange double time phenomenon is a new phase of matter.
Researchers from a couple of US universities and Honeywell’s Quantinuum spin-off collaborated on the new paper, which appeared at the end of last month in the news Nature. The experimental setup consists of lasers and ytterbium atoms. Ytterbium is a metallic element whose arrangement of electrons makes it extremely suitable to respond to laser treatments in a certain region of the wave spectrum. To activate the new “dynamic topological phase,” scientists first hold ytterbium atoms in place using an electric ion field — such as a small magnet– then shoot them with the correct laser wavelength to supercool the ytterbium.
Broomfield, Colorado-based Quantinuum is studying a particular quantum computer made of ten ytterbium atoms in a shared system. It is these ten atoms, held by the above-mentioned electric fields, that do the math. A group of atoms can tangled up– meaning they are intrinsically linked to a group that acts as one piece, despite being ten separate pieces. And within that, individual atoms can be tuned to represent different information.
Think about how we write numbers. In binary, the largest ten-digit number is 1111111111, which is only 1,023 in total. But you can write ten digits in base 10, our usual counting numbers, and you get 9,999,999,999. This is achieved by simply increasing the number of possibilities each digit can choose from (0, 1) all the way to (0, 1, . . . . 8, 9). So what about a system where, theoretically, any of the ten atoms could be positioned? everywhere on the dial?
If that sounds great, you’re not wrong! There are multiple reasons why scientists and industry speculators around the world are watching the field of quantum computers with bated breath. But there’s still a big catch, and that’s where this research comes in. The atoms in the quantum computer, known as quantum bits, or qubitsare very vulnerable, because we don’t have a good way to put them in the quantum state for long.
That’s because of the observer principle in quantum physics: measuring a particle in a quantum state changes, and can even destroy the quantum state. In this case, that means unhooking all atoms from the shared yoke of entanglement. And worse, the ‘observer’ can be anything that happens in the complex soup of air and forces and particles surrounding the quantum computer.
Back to the new experiment. Although the ten atoms are entangled, they are fragile and must be more stable. Fill in three of the scientists of this research team. In 2018, they theorized that they could train the ytterbium atoms to kind of exist in two time streams at once. They were inspired by the Fibonacci sequence. In math, it is a sequence of integers that starts with zero and follows a simple rule: each number is equal to the sum of the previous two numbers. The start of the sequence would be 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, etc. The team pulsed the atoms with lasers that alternated in a pattern similar to the Fibonacci sequence, where the repetition of pulses grows by incorporating pieces that came before. But, critically, no piece repeats itself completely.
By alternating pulses in this way, they created a quasicrystal, a term for a pattern that isn’t as regular or repeating as a real crystal, but has many of the same properties. The quasi-crystal occurs in two dimensions, by including the idea of an alternating pulse as well as a “magnitude” of the pulse pattern of the Fibonacci sequence, such as an (x, y) line of lines. Those two dimensions each have their own version of the flow of time. And both are flattened and included in the only dimension of just one laser pulsing on and off.
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Having the extra “support” of an added, virtual dimension of time helps to make the quantum computer a lot more stable, the researchers have confirmed four years after the first theory was formed. That’s because instead of just one mode of time symmetry, something introduced by a rhythmic pulse of lasers, this system has two modes. Such as a throat singerit ‘resonates’ simultaneously in two different patterns.
The results of this experiment really speak for themselves. With traditional single-mode laser beams, the quantum computer stayed in the quantum state for 1.5 seconds, which is high for this type of test. But when the researchers turned on the Fibonacci-inspired quasicrystal pulses, the system stayed in the quantum state for 5.5 seconds — a lifetime in quantum computers.
Quantinuum and its researchers are excited about the find, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Then they will find a way to merge this technology with a quantum computer system that actually does some math. Hopefully, the increased stability will help support the system, while leaving the qubits vulnerable to the observer effect.
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