“When I first heard about fractons, I said there’s no way this could be true, because it completely defies my prejudice of how systems behave,” said Nathan Seiberg, a theoretical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. “But I was wrong. I realized I had been living in denial.”
Fractons are quasiparticles — particle-like entities that emerge out of complicated interactions between many elementary particles inside a material. But fractons are bizarre even compared to other exotic quasiparticles, because they are totally immobile or able to move only in a limited way. There’s nothing in their environment that stops fractons from moving; rather it’s an inherent property of theirs. It means fractons’ microscopic structure influences their behavior over long distances.
The Haah code takes the phenomenon to the extreme: Particles can only move when new particles are summoned in never-ending repeating patterns called fractals. Say you have four particles arranged in a square, but when you zoom in to each corner you find another square of four particles that are close together. Zoom in on a corner again and you find another square, and so on. For such a structure to materialize in the vacuum requires so much energy that it’s impossible to move this type of fracton. This allows very stable qubits — the bits of quantum computing — to be stored in the system, as the environment can’t disrupt the qubits’ delicate state.