Researchers at Germany’s TU Dortmund University report that they have developed an ultra-robust time crystal. Their study, published in Nature Physics, offers new insights into the potential applications and the physics governing time crystals, and offers a new method for keeping them stable.
Time crystals represent a new phase of matter, first theorized in 2012 by Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek. Unlike traditional crystals, which exhibit repeating patterns in space, time crystals display patterns that repeat in time. This means their atomic structures undergo periodic motion even without external energy, defying the traditional laws of thermodynamics that govern equilibrium in most systems.
The importance of the TU Dortmund team’s work lies in its demonstration of an ultra-robust time crystal within a semiconductor material. The time crystal they developed can maintain its periodic oscillations over extensive periods, roughly 40 minutes, which is millions of times longer than previous attempts.
Led by Dr. Alex Greilich, the team developed a novel method to stabilize the time crystal. Using indium gallium arsenide, the crystal’s nuclear spins store energy, acting like a battery.
So in simple terms, by shining light on the crystal, they created a special condition where the nuclear spins start to oscillate through their interaction with electron spins, effectively creating a time crystal. Metaphorically, think of the time crystal as a clock that keeps ticking without needing to be wound up. Greilich and his team achieved this by using a special kind of material where tiny particles inside it, called electrons and nuclei, talk to each other in a very specific way. This conversation makes the clock tick on its own, steadily and without stopping, even without any push from the outside.
This new time crystal can last for at least 40 minutes – a lifetime that surpasses previous records by ten million times, with potential for even greater longevity.
One of the most promising applications of time crystals is in the realm of quantum computing and information processing. Time crystals could potentially be used to create more stable qubits—the basic units of quantum information—which are notoriously sensitive to external disturbances. This stability could pave the way for more reliable quantum computers, capable of solving complex problems far beyond the reach of today’s most powerful classic computers.
Moreover, the intrinsic temporal regularity of time crystals makes them ideal candidates for enhancing the precision of timekeeping devices. In an era where every nanosecond counts, from GPS navigation to high-frequency financial trading, the development of clocks based on time crystals could significantly improve the accuracy and reliability of time measurements.
This new research provides a tangible example of time crystals in a relatively accessible semiconductor system, making further experimental investigation and application development more feasible. Additionally, the robustness of the time crystal against external perturbations addresses one of the critical challenges in the field, opening the door to real-world applications where stability is paramount.
Beyond enhancing quantum computing and timekeeping technologies, time crystals could revolutionize our understanding of non-equilibrium thermodynamics. They challenge conventional wisdom about the states matter can take and how systems behave over time, potentially leading to new theoretical frameworks and technological innovations.