Newly discovered Time Crystals may wiggle forever

Chris Burns - Jan 31, 2017
Newly discovered Time Crystals may wiggle forever

Scientists have detailed a new sort of crystal which creates what they define as “a new phase of matter.” This Time Crystal is “also really cool because it is one of the first examples of non-equilibrium matter,” said lead researcher Norman Yao from the University of California, Berkeley. In other words, these crystals are perpetually in motion as they cannot settle into equilibrium. While the atoms in these crystals are able to settle into a pattern, they cannot stop moving altogether.

These researchers suggest that the Time Crystal can be thought of as Jell-o. The Time Crystals used in the studies included in this week’s report were made using a blueprint created by UC Berkeley Physicist Norman Yao. Physicists at the University of Maryland created their time crystal using a one-dimensional chain of Ytterbium ions.

“For the last half-century, we have been exploring equilibrium matter, like metals and insulators,” said Yao. “We are just now starting to explore a whole new landscape of non-equilibrium matter.” Another setup uses Yao’s blueprint at Harvard University. This separate group posted their results last year – they too have submitted a paper for scientific publication.

“Wouldn’t it be super weird if you jiggled the Jell-O,” said Yao, “and found that somehow it responded at a different period? 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’.”

The original proposition for Time Crystals was made in 2012 by Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek. This past year, theoretical physicists at UC Santa Barbara’s Station Q as well as Princeton University both independently proved that the Time Crystal was a possibility. Yao suggested to EurekAlert that it was this most recent experiment at UC Berkeley that created “the bridge between the theoretical idea and the experimental implementation.”

For more information on this most recent bit of research with Time Crystals, have a peek at the paper Discrete Time Crystals: Rigidity, Criticality, and Realizations. This paper can be found in the scientific publication Physical Review Letters under code DOI:

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