Time crystals could help improve GPS and clocks
Time crystals could help improve GPS and clocks

Scientists see 'time crystals' interacting for first time

The new phase of matter could be used for powerful quantum computers and mapping tools

Andrew Griffin
Monday 17 August 2020 15:11

Scientists have seen "time crystals" interacting for the first ever time.

Previously, resarchers have not even seen two time crystals existing in the same system, but have now been able to watch them interact with each other.

The breakthrough could lead to a host of new technological advances, from quantum computers to powerful GPS systems. They could help power atomic clocks for even more accurate time or gyroscopes.

Time crystals are so powerful because they remain together or "coherent" despite different conditions. Keeping coherence is the main difficulty that is stopping humanity from building powerful quantum computers, whose proponents argue could overcome a variety of technological problems.

As such, keeping the time crystals together as they interact with each other represents a breakthrough that could be used by anyone attempting to harness their powers.

"Controlling the interaction of two time crystals is a major achievement. Before this, nobody had observed two time crystals in the same system, let alone seen them interact," said Samuli Autti, lead author from Lancaster University, in a statement.

"Controlled interactions are the number one item on the wish list of anyone looking to harness a time crystal for practical applications, such as quantum information processing."

Standard crystals like metals or rocks are made up of atoms, arranged in a regularly repeating pattern through space. Time crystals are different: they appear to be in constant, repeating motion through time, even without anything changing them from the outside.

Their atoms constantly spin or move around in one direction and then the other

The new research, published in Nature Materials and carried out by researchers from Lancaster, Yale, Royal Holloway London, and Aalto University in Helsinki watched time crystals made up of a rare isotype of helium. They cooled it down to almost absolute zero and then created the time crystals, allowing them to touch.

As they did, they interacted and exchanged particles, which flowed one of the time crystals to the other.

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