You’re probably familiar with the ordinary states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas that surround us in everyday life on Earth. In recent years, however, physicists worldwide have been engrossed in the creation of a new state of matter called “time crystals.”
Although it may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, time crystals have made their way into the world of physics. Researchers have successfully developed a time crystal using a quantum computer, solidifying its existence in the scientific world.
While the research hasn’t been formally published, a preprint of the scientific paper was shared on the ArXiV website some time ago.
So, what exactly is a time crystal?
Contrary to its name, it isn’t the elusive component of a time machine or a futuristic power source. Instead, it represents a subtle curiosity about the laws of physics.
Traditional crystals like diamonds or emeralds have atoms arranged in repeating patterns in space. The concept of a time crystal arose from the idea of arranging atoms in repeating patterns in time, the fourth dimension.
Researchers achieved this by creating a crystal with atoms starting in one state. By applying a precisely tuned laser, the atoms would flip into another state, then back, and repeat the process endlessly without absorbing any energy from the laser.
This perpetual motion defies the second law of thermodynamics, a fundamental principle of classical physics. According to this law, entropy or disorder in a closed system always tends to increase. It’s akin to a vase teetering on the edge of a table; the universe naturally pushes it over, causing it to shatter. It takes energy to restore the vase.
The concept of time crystals was first proposed by Nobel laureate Franck Wilczek in 2012, but some physicists initially rejected the idea, citing conflicts with the second law of thermodynamics.
Nevertheless, determined researchers found loopholes. In 2016, scientists at the University of Maryland managed to create a crude time crystal using ytterbium atoms, while other groups achieved similar results within diamonds.
However, the latest pioneers in time crystal experimentation took a different approach. They turned to Google’s quantum computer, which operates based on the principles of quantum mechanics, the mysterious physics that governs the universe at its smallest scales. Unlike traditional computers that use silicon bits, quantum computers work directly with atoms or particles, allowing physicists to conduct intricate experiments that were previously challenging.
Gabriel Perdue, a quantum computer researcher at Fermilab, explains that simulating quantum physics rules becomes significantly more difficult with traditional computers. By arranging particles in a quantum computer’s processor, scientists can study systems of tiny particles as if they were building blocks, offering a unique and powerful capability rarely seen in the non-quantum realm.
The researchers used Google’s quantum computer to manipulate atoms, pulse them with a laser, and create a larger and more stable time crystal than ever before. While previous time crystals quickly unraveled, this latest effort exhibits remarkable stability, impressing the scientists involved.
Perdue highlights the significance of this experiment as a demonstration of using quantum computers for simulating and studying quantum physics systems in novel and exciting ways.
While time crystals are unlikely to pave the way for time machines, physicists believe they could contribute to the development of more robust quantum computers. Engineers have long struggled to find suitable memory equivalents for quantum computers, akin to silicon in classical computers. Time crystals might serve that purpose.
Moreover, this experiment underscores the potential of quantum computers in scientific research. Perdue emphasizes that the same platform enabling simulations of impressive algorithms is equally, if not more, effective in simulating complex systems like time crystals.
What are your thoughts about time crystals? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!