**(EurekaAlert)** Physicists from Rice University and the University of Vienna studying the strange behavior of metal alloys called heavy fermions have made a surprising discovery that could be useful in safeguarding the information stored in quantum bits, or qubits, the basic units of encoded information in quantum computers.

They found they could transform the quantum behavior of the heavy fermion material in two unique ways, one in which electrons compete to occupy orbitals and another where they compete to occupy spin states.

“The effect is so pronounced with one degree of freedom that it ends up liberating the other one,” said Rice’s Qimiao Si, co-corresponding author of the study and the director of the Rice Center for Quantum Materials (RCQM). “You can essentially tune the system to maximize damage to one of these, leaving the other well-defined.”

Si said the result could be important for companies like Google, IBM, Intel and others who are competing to develop quantum computers. Unlike today’s digital computers, which use electricity or light to encode bits of information, quantum computers use the quantum states of subatomic particles like electrons to store information in qubits.

“You need a well-defined quantum state if you wish to be assured that the information that is stored in a qubit will not change due to background interference,” Si said.