Physicists Create World’s First Time Crystal

Physicists Create World’s First Time Crystal

Physicists Create World’s First Time Crystal
Image credit: CC0 Public Domain

Time crystals were first predicted in 2012 (proposed by the Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek in 2012). Now researchers have created time crystals for the first time and say they could one day be used as quantum memories.

They may sound like something straight out of Star Trek, but newly created “time crystals” truly are a scientific marvel. They jiggle like Jello-O, but do so without requiring any energy at all.

Spontaneous symmetry breaking is a fundamental concept in many areas of physics, ranging from cosmology and particle physics to condensed matter. A prime example is the breaking of spatial translation symmetry, which underlies the formation of crystals and the phase transition from liquid to solid.

For months now, there’s been speculation that researchers might have finally created time crystals – strange crystals that have an atomic structure that repeats not just in space, but in time, putting them in constant oscillation without energy.

Now it’s official – researchers have just reported in detail how to make and measure these bizarre crystals. And two independent teams of scientists claim they’ve actually created time crystals in the lab, based off Norman Yao’s blueprint, confirming the existence of an entirely new phase of matter.

Yao worked closely with Monroe as his Maryland team made the new material, helping them focus on the important properties to measure to confirm that the material was in fact a stable or rigid time crystal. Yao also described how the time crystal would change phase, like an ice cube melting, under different magnetic fields and laser pulsing.

The Harvard team, led by Mikhail Lukin, set up its time crystal using densely packed nitrogen vacancy centers in diamonds.

Yao is continuing his own work on time crystals as he explores the theory behind other novel but not-yet-realized non-equilibrium materials.

Yao’s co-authors are UC Berkeley professor of physics Ashvin Vishwanath,; Andrew Potter, now an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin; and UC Berkeley graduate student Ionut-Dragos Potirniche.

The work was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Simons Investigator Program, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and UC Berkeley’s Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science, Microsoft.

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Update: The two group of researcher have published in Nature magazine (March 2017). A well made article about the time-crystal discovery story was published on  website:

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