Bypassing the laws of physics: time crystals are “impossible”, but obey quantum physics


In a new experiment, scientists created two time crystals inside the superfluid and brought them into contact.

Time crystals were long believed to be impossible because their perpetual motion seemed to defy the laws of physics. However, using quantum physics scientists not only created time crystals, but they also showed that they had the potential to power useful devices in the future.

Scientists have created the first “time-crystal” two-body system in an experiment that appears to bend the laws of physics.

This comes after the same team recently witnessed the first interaction of the new phase of matter.

“Everyone knows that perpetual motion machines are impossible. However, in quantum physics, perpetual motion is acceptable as long as we keep our eyes closed. By sneaking through this fissure, we can craft Time Crystals. — Dr Samuli Autti

Time crystals have long been considered impossible because they are made up of endlessly moving atoms. The discovery, published today (June 2, 2022) in the journal Nature Communicationshows that not only can time crystals be created, but they have the potential to be made into useful devices.

Time crystals are different from a standard crystal – like metals or rocks – which is made up of atoms arranged in a regularly repeating pattern in space.

First theorized in 2012 by Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek and identified in 2016, time crystals exhibit the bizarre property of being in constant and repetitive motion over time despite the absence of external input. Their atoms are constantly oscillating, rotating or moving first in one direction, then in the other.

Time Crystals Rotating Refrigerator

The researchers cooled the superfluid helium-3 to near absolute zero (minus 273.15°C) inside this rotating refrigerator, where two time crystals were created and brought into contact. Credit: © Aalto University/Mikko Raskinen

Dr Samuli Autti, EPSRC member and lead author from Lancaster University’s Department of Physics, explained: “Everyone knows that perpetual motion machines are impossible. However, in quantum physics, perpetual motion is acceptable as long as we keep our eyes closed. By sneaking through this fissure, we can craft Time Crystals.

“It turns out that putting two of them together works like a charm, even though time crystals shouldn’t exist in the first place. And we already know that they exist at room temperature too.

A “two-level system” is a basic element of a quantum computer. Time crystals could be used to build quantum devices that operate at room temperature.

An international team of researchers from Lancaster University, Royal Holloway in London, the Landau Institute and Aalto University in Helsinki have observed time crystals using helium-3, a rare isotope helium with a missing neutron. The experiment was performed at Aalto University.

They cooled the superfluid helium-3 to about one ten thousandth of a degree from[{” attribute=””>absolute zero (0.0001K or -273.15°C). The researchers created two time crystals inside the superfluid, and brought them to touch. The scientists then watched the two time crystals interacting as described by quantum physics.

Reference: “Nonlinear two-level dynamics of quantum time crystals” 2 June 2022, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-30783-w


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