Physicists Actually Create "Impossible" Time Crystals

Physicists create a structure that breaks the symmetry of time.

Physicists Actually Create "Impossible" Time Crystals

Time crystals are hypothetical structures proposed by Nobel-Prize winning theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek in 2012. What’s special about them is that they would move without using energy, breaking a fundamental physics law of time-translation symmetry. Such crystals would move while remaining in their ground states, when they are at their lowest energy. 


They’ve been deemed “impossible” by most physicists and yet, at the end of August, experimental physicists from University of California, Santa Barbara and Microsoft’s research lab station Q published a notable paper on how time crystals may be feasible and their plan for creating them. What’s also remarkable, if time crystals were actually created, they would re-define the nature of time itself, potentially reconciling the rather weird field of quantum mechanics with the theory of relativity.

Now comes news that scientists from the University of Maryland tried an experiment suggested by Frank Wilczek and actually made a time crystal that works. They created a ring-shaped quantum system of a group of ytterbium ions, cooled off to their ground state. In theory, this system should not be moving at all. But if it was to periodically rotate, that would prove the existence of symmetry-breaking time crystals.

The research scientists used a laser to change the spin of the ions to put them into perpetual oscillation. As reported by MIT Tech Review, they discovered that over time the oscillations eventually happened at twice the original rate. Since no energy was added to the system, the only explanation was that they created a time crystal.

As their paper undergoes the peer-review process, the physicists look for others to repeat their experiment. If their discovery is confirmed, the repercussions of this groundbreaking development are only beginning to be understood. One potential application suggested by the scientists may be in quantum computing, where time crystals may be utilized for quantum memory.  

You can read the new paper “Observation of a Discrete Time Crystal” here.

3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

"You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

Excavation of a triceratops skull in South Dakota.

Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
Surprising Science
  • The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
  • It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
  • Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
Keep reading Show less

An Olympics without fanfare: What would the ancient Greeks think of the empty stadiums?

In ancient Greece, the Olympics were never solely about the athletes themselves.

Photo by Despina Galani on Unsplash
Coronavirus

Because of a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2021 Olympics will unfold in a stadium absent the eyes, ears and voices of a once-anticipated 68,000 ticket holders from around the world.

Keep reading Show less

Bad at math? Blame your neurotransmitters

A new brain imaging study explored how different levels of the brain's excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are linked to math abilities.

Signal burst illustration

Mind & Brain
  • Glutamate and GABA are neurotransmitters that help regulate brain activity.
  • Scientists have long known that both are important to learning and neuroplasticity, but their relationship to acquiring complex cognitive skills like math has remained unclear.
  • The new study shows that having certain levels of these neurotransmitters predict math performance, but that these levels switch with age.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast