If you thought we’ve discovered all that there was to discover, you are about change your opinion. Based on a previous research by Norman Yao at the University of California, Berkeley, a team of scientists has developed a completely new phase of matter known as time crystals. As their name suggests, these crystals are unique because their structure repeats with respect to time and not space.
By contrast, conventional crystals, such as diamonds, possess an atomic lattice. This arrangement of atoms is known to repeat itself in space. Time crystals, on the other hand, are comprised of structures that occur regularly through time. As explained by Yao, these fascinating particles are in perpetual motion, which can be likened to the jiggling of Jell-O. He said:
Wouldn’t it be super weird if you jiggled the Jell-O and found that somehow it responded at a different period? But that is the essence of the time crystal.
First proposed back in 2012 by scientist Frank Wilczek, and later confirmed by theoretical physicists at UC Santa Barbara and Princeton University, time crystals are believed to be one of earliest examples of what is known as non-equilibrium matter. Recently published in the Physical Review Letters journal, the amazing breakthrough could facilitate the development of quantum computers. Yao went on to add:
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.
For the current research, scientists from University of Maryland and Harvard University came together to create time crystals, using Yao’s earlier findings as blueprint. Led by Chris Monroe, the team started with a linear sequence of 10 ytterbium ions with electron spins that interact with one another. In order to stop them from achieving equilibrium, the ions were blasted alternately with a laser responsible for creating an effective magnetic field, and another one that partially reversed their atomic spins.
This, according to the researchers, resulted in a stable, yet continuous, pattern of spin flipping that is typical of a crystal. The alternating magnetic field and laser cause the time crystals to break T-symmetry (or time symmetry). As part of the project, the team has also described the particles’ characteristic properties. For instance, under specific conditions involving laser pulsing and magnetic fields, time crystals can even change phase, much like ice melting to form liquid water.
Additionally, the scientists have identified a second technique of creating these spectacular crystals. Speaking about the findings, Phil Richerme of Indiana University explained:
Such similar results achieved in two wildly disparate systems underscore that time crystals are a broad new phase of matter, not simply a curiosity relegated to small or narrowly specific systems. Observation of the discrete time crystal… confirms that symmetry breaking can occur in essentially all natural realms, and clears the way to several new avenues of research.
Source: UC Berkeley