(Quanta) Researchers at Google in collaboration with physicists at Stanford, Princeton and other universities say that they have used Google’s quantum computer to demonstrate a genuine “time crystal.” In addition, a separate research group claimed earlier this month to have created a time crystal in a diamond.
A time crystal is an object whose parts move in a regular, repeating cycle, sustaining this constant change without burning any energy.
“The consequence is amazing: You evade the second law of thermodynamics,” said Roderich Moessner, director of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany, and a co-author on the Google paper.
The time crystal is a new category of phases of matter, expanding the definition of what a phase is. All other known phases, like water or ice, are in thermal equilibrium: Their constituent atoms have settled into the state with the lowest energy permitted by the ambient temperature, and their properties don’t change with time.
Researchers have raced to create a time crystal over the past five years, but previous demos, though successful on their own terms, have failed to satisfy all the criteria needed to establish the time crystal’s existence. “There are good reasons to think that none of those experiments completely succeeded, and a quantum computer like [Google’s] would be particularly well placed to do much better than those earlier experiments,” said John Chalker, a condensed matter physicist at the University of Oxford who wasn’t involved in the new work.
These researchers have fulfilled the original hope for quantum computers. In his 1982 paper proposing the devices, the physicist Richard Feynman argued that they could be used to simulate the particles of any imaginable quantum system.
A time crystal exemplifies that vision. It’s a quantum object that nature itself probably never creates, given its complex combination of delicate ingredients. Imaginations conjured the recipe, stirred by nature’s most baffling laws.
Tristan Greene of Next Web wrote about this development, “I personally believe this is the most important scientific breakthrough in our lifetimes.”