While the name may sound like something from a science fiction movie, time crystals have actually now been invented by a team of researchers. And despite their name, they don’t have anything to do with time travel.
Regular crystals have a structure that repeats regularly in space, but time crystals are much different. Their structure actually repeats itself in time and space. Due to this, they are in constant oscillation without energy.
About two weeks ago, a paper was published online in the journal Physical Review Letters. In the paper, the UC Berkeley assistant professor of physics, Norman Yao explains how to make and measure the properties of a time crystal. He goes on to predict the phases which surround the time crystals, which are similar to the liquid and gas phases of ice.
“This is a remarkable experiment,” says physicist Chetan Nayak of Microsoft Station Q at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “There is a ‘wow factor.’”
By constructing a chain of 10 ytterbium atoms and then hitting them with two lasers various times to keep them out of equilibrium, researchers discovered that the chain would settle into a stable repetitive pattern. Despite the settling, the material that the chain was composed of continued to stay out of equilibrium. The discovery sparked the beginning to a new study which focused on a new class of matter that can’t settle down in some motionless equilibrium, similar to a diamond.
“Wouldn’t it be super weird if you jiggled Jell-O and found that somehow it responded at a different period?” Yao said in a statement. “But that is the essence of the time crystal. You have some periodic driver that has a period ‘T’, but the system somehow synchronizes so that you observe the system oscillating with a period that is larger than ‘T’.”
For the time being, Yao is hard pressed to state exactly how the new matter will be used. However, others have stated that time crystals could come in handy for quantum computers. Others believe the discovery could be exponentially significant in other areas of quantum physics that have yet to be named. As it stands, with the discovery being so new, scientists remain in the research phase. However, with such a spectacular discovery, we are sure the potential is beyond our wildest dreams.