Scientists unveil new form of matter known as “time crystals”

In a research paper published in Physical Review Letters, Norman Yao, a UC Berkeley assistant physics professor has described how to create a new form of matter known as time crystals, and how to measure their various properties. The new form of matter can have various phases, such as the solid, liquid and gas states of water. Two independent groups following the blueprints provided by Yao have managed to create time crystals in labs.

Repeatedly tapping a chunk of jello introduces vibrations, that can repeat periodically after certain intervals of time. Scientists blasted two lasers at a one dimensional chain of ytterbium ions. One laser was to create a magnetic field, and another was to partially flip the spins of atoms. The atoms settled in a stable, repeating pattern of spin flipping, which is the definition of a time crystal. Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek first theorised the existence of time crystals in 2012, and other researchers independently proved that such a crystal could be made.

A time crystal made up of a one dimensional chain of ytterbium ions. Each ion behaves like an electron spin and exhibits long-range interactions indicated as arrows. (Image: Chris Monroe/ UC Berkeley)

The UC Berkeley researchers bridged the gap between theory and implementation, and actually created one of the first examples of non-equilibrium materials. The discovery could have implications in quantum computing, and can theoretically be used to create perfect memories that do not degrade over time. “For the last half-century, we have been exploring equilibrium matter, like metals and insulators. We are just now starting to explore a whole new landscape of non-equilibrium matter.” Yao said.

If the atomic structures in known crystals can repeat in regular space intervals, why cannot the atomic structures repeat periodically in time? This was the question that Norman Yao investigated, resulting in the breakthrough implementation. There are more details about the experimental creation of time crystals on the UC Berkeley web site.

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