Researchers Create New Matter Phase: What Are ‘Time Crystals’?


Researchers have successfully created the first time crystals in history — and it's not your average bling.

What Are Time Crystals

Ordinary crystals — such diamonds and semi-precious stones — have an atomic structure that repeats in space. Now scientists have discovered that there are also crystals that repeat their atomic and molecular patterns through time. They call it time crystals.

Time crystals were originally brought to the fore by Nobel laureate  Frank Wilczek back in 2012. In 2016, theoretical physicists at Princeton University and UC Santa Barbara's Station Q proved that producing this specific type of crystal is possible.

Connecting the theoretical idea to the experimental implementation, Norman Yao of UC Berkeley discussed time crystals in detail in a new scientific paper published online in the journal of Physical Review Letters.

Creating The First Time Crystals

Patterning their work to Yao's paper and working closely with him, two groups of researchers have produced the very first time crystals using completely different setups.

The time crystal created by Chris Monroe and his colleagues at the University of Maryland uses a line of 10 ytterbium ions whose electron spins network, akin to the qubit systems, which are being tested as quantum computers.

The Harvard team, headed by Mikhail Lukin, on the other hand, set up its own time crystal by means of tightly packed nitrogen vacancy centers found in diamonds.

The teams have submitted their results for publication, and Yao is a co-author in both papers.

Non-Equilibrium Matter

Time crystals are in a class of their own. They are a new kind of matter that can never reach equilibrium, otherwise known as non-equilibrium matter. Likened to a jiggling Jell-O, time crystals can never stop oscillating despite how little energy they have.

However, Yao believes that that time crystals are not special because of the fact that they repeat in time.

"This is a new phase of matter, period, but it is also really cool because it is one of the first examples of non-equilibrium matter," Yao explained.

The discovery of time crystals is a big deal for the world of physics. Researchers have been deep in the study of equilibrium matter for at least the last half-century, such as metals and insulators, but they've only begun to scratch the surface of non-equilibrium matter.

The practical application for time crystals have yet to be revealed, although experts are speculating that this new information may be valuable in quantum computers.

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