Scientists have confirmed a brand new form of matter: time crystals
Perpetual motion without energy.
By FIONA MACDONALD
Jan 28 2017
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 perpetual motion 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 this blueprint, confirming the existence of an entirely new form of matter.
The discovery might sound pretty abstract, but it heralds in a whole new era in physics – for decades we’ve been studying matter that’s defined as being ‘in equilibrium’, such as metals and insulators.
But 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.
The fact that we now have the first example of non-equilibrium matter could lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of the world around us, as well as new technology such as quantum computing.
“This is a new phase of matter, period, but it 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.
“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.”
Let’s take a step back for a second, because the concept of time crystals has been floating around for a few years now.
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, known as a ground state.
Usually when a material is in ground state, also known as the zero-point energy of a system, it means 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 form of matter – non-equilibrium matter. It’s incapable of sitting still.
But it’s one thing to predict these time crystals exist, it’s another entirely to make them, which is where the new study comes in.