Time crystals: A brand new phase of matter and the first example of non-equilibrium matter

For months now, there’s been speculation that researchers might have finally created time crystals.

Now it’s official – researchers have just reported in detail how to make and measure these bizarre crystals, confirming the existence of an entirely new phase of matter.

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Scientists unveil new form of matter: Time crystals

These strange Time Crystals have an atomic structure that repeats not just in space, but in time, putting them in constant oscillation without energy.

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 this blueprint, confirming the existence of an entirely new phase of matter.

It’s the first example of non-equilibrium matter.

It’s been predicted that there are many more strange types of matter out there in the Universe that aren’t in equilibrium that we haven’t even begun to look into, including time crystals. And now we know they’re real.

For the last half-century, we have been exploring equilibrium matter, like metals and insulators. We are just now starting to explore a whole new landscape of non-equilibrium matter.

What are Time Crystals?

First predicted by Nobel-Prize winning theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek back in 2012, time crystals are structures that appear to have movement even at their lowest energy state.

So at the zero-point energy of a system, movement should theoretically be impossible, because that would require it to expend energy. But Wilczek predicted that this might not actually be the case for time crystals.

Normal crystals have an atomic structure that repeats in space – just like the carbon lattice of a diamond. But, just like a ruby or a diamond, they’re motionless because they’re in equilibrium in their ground state.

But time crystals have a structure that repeats in time, not just in space. And it keep oscillating in its ground state. 

Imagine it like jelly – when you tap it, it repeatedly jiggles. The same thing happens in time crystals, but the big difference here is that the motion occurs without any energy. A time crystal is like constantly oscillating jelly in its natural, ground state, and that’s what makes it a whole new phase of matter – non-equilibrium matter. It’s incapable of sitting still.

How to create Time Crystals?

It’s one thing to predict these time crystals exist, it’s another entirely to make them.

Yao and his team have now come up with a detailed blueprint that describes exactly how to make and measure the properties of a time crystal, and even predict what the various phases surrounding the time crystals should be.

Based on Yao’s blueprint, two independent teams – University of Maryland and University of Harvard – have now followed the instructions to create their own time crystals.

The Harvard time crystal paper is to be found here, whereas the University of Maryland paper can be seen here.

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