A no-go theorem for a two-dimensional self-correcting quantum memory based on stabilizer codes

Sergey Bravyi, Barbara Terhal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

130 Citations (Scopus)


We study properties of stabilizer codes that permit a local description on a regular D-dimensional lattice. Specifically, we assume that the stabilizer group of a code (the gauge group for subsystem codes) can be generated by local Pauli operators such that the support of any generator is bounded by a hypercube of size O(1). Our first result concerns the optimal scaling of the distance d with the linear size of the lattice L. We prove an upper bound d = O (L D-1) which is tight for D = 1, 2. This bound applies to both subspace and subsystem stabilizer codes. Secondly, we analyze the suitability of stabilizer codes for building a self-correcting quantum memory. Any stabilizer code with geometrically local generators can be naturally transformed to a local Hamiltonian penalizing states that violate the stabilizer condition. A degenerate ground state of this Hamiltonian corresponds to the logical subspace of the code. We prove that for D = 1, 2, different logical states can be mapped into each other by a sequence of single-qubit Pauli errors such that the energy of all intermediate states is upper bounded by a constant independent of the lattice size L. The same result holds if there are unused logical qubits that are treated as 'gauge qubits'. It demonstrates that a self-correcting quantum memory cannot be built using stabilizer codes in dimensions D = 1, 2. This result is in sharp contrast with the existence of a classical self-correcting memory in the form of a two-dimensional (2D) ferromagnet. Our results leave open the possibility for a self-correcting quantum memory based on 2D subsystem codes or on 3D subspace or subsystem codes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number043029
Number of pages20
JournalNew Journal of Physics
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


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