January 22, 2023 at 10:38 pm

Real Time Crystals Found Inside a Children’s Toy Kit

by Ashley Dreiling

In two new studies, physicists have learned that time crystals, matter composed of atoms arranged in a repeating pattern over time, can be created quickly and simply using grow-your-own-crystal toy kits. Time crystals, originally discovered in 2016, are different from regular crystals, whose atoms are arranged in repeating patterns in the dimensions of space – height, length, and width – rather than time.

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Experimental time crystals show discreet time-translation symmetry breaking, meaning their structures oscillate at only a fraction of the frequency of the driving force.

The discrete time crystal (DTC) is a state of matter that has perpetual and indefinite “motion without energy.”

In the studies, published in Physical Review Letters and Physical Review B, researchers analyzed crystals they had previously grown crystals for a different experiment. They found typical DTC behavior in mono-ammonium phosphate; a glassy-white, relatively water-soluble compound commonly used as fertilizer. This finding confuses the theory of time crystals that these objects require a certain “internal disorder” to be able to act as time crystals.

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“Our work suggests that the signature of a DTC could be found, in principle, by looking in a children’s crystal growing kit,” Professor Sean Barrett, from Yale University, said in a statement.

Scientists believe time crystals could potentially improve current technologies like atomic clocks, magnetometers, and the gyroscopes in mobile phones responsible for orientation. They may play an important role in emergent quantum technologies, perhaps to serve as memory in quantum computers, like the silicon that supports traditional computers.

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