Time Crystals Have Now Been Officially Declared as a New State of Matter

The Harvard diamond. Credit: Georg Kucsko

This year has already been monumental for physicists worldwide as a blueprint for making and measuring time crystals was produced. This was an amazing breakthrough and one that has sparked time crystals now being declared as a new state of matter. Andrew Potter from Texas University is one of the researchers, and he says, “We’ve taken these theoretical ideas that we’ve been poking around for the last couple of years and actually built it in the laboratory. Hopefully, this is just the first example of these, with much more to come.”

Time crystals are great because they’re completely different to anything else that we have on the planet. They’re the first specimen we’ve seen that are of a ‘non-equilibrium’ state of matter and could hold the key to quantum computing. “It shows that the richness of the phases of matter is even broader [than we thought]. One of the holy grails in physics is understanding what types of matter can exist in nature. [N]on-equilibrium phases represent a new avenue different from all the things we’ve studied in the past, ” stated physicist Norman Yao from the University of California.

Time crystals were first proposed back in 2012 by Nobel Prize winner and theoretical physicist, Frank Wilczek when he envisioned something that could achieve everlasting movement while the object itself switched from ground state to out of ground state and back again.  It’s a theory that effectively breaks one of the most fundamental assumptions of physics, time-translation symmetry.  Crystal is a physical object with an asymmetrical ground state which is known for their repeating structural patterns.  However, the atoms that make up these crystals have preferred positions within the lattice, so it will appear different depending on the angle you view it from.

So, taking all this into consideration, Wilczek hypothesized that is could be possible to create such an object that achieves an asymmetrical ground state across time.  Moving forward a few years to now, Norman Yao describes how with a tweak to Wilczek’s proposal it’s possible to build this type of system.  Two different teams from the University of Maryland and Harvard University decided to test the blueprint out, and both managed to create different versions of a time crystal.  Yao commented, “Both systems are cool.  They’re kind of very different.  I think they’re extremely complimentary.  I don’t think one is better than the other”.  With thanks to these new discoveries, scientists can now look to use time crystals in quantum computing and finally make a long-awaited dream become a reality.

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