Home Sciences They create the first quantum “time crystals”

They create the first quantum “time crystals”


Quantum time crystals are already a reality: an experiment has made two coupled time crystals form a two-level macroscopic system, which evolves over time based on strange quantum dynamics. The breakthrough could be used to build quantum devices that work at room temperature, vital for bringing quantum computers to everyday life.

An international team of scientists led by Lancaster University in the UK has created the first two-body system of “time crystal”, in an experiment that seems to twist the laws of physics. Time crystals were thought to be impossible to create, because they are made of atoms in endless motion.

The discovery, published in Nature Communications, shows that time crystals can not only be created, but have the potential to become useful devices.

Crystals with another internal logic

The “time crystal” is a new state of matter: a kind of perpetual motion machine (an “update” of the perpetuum mobile built around 1500 by Leonardo da Vinci) that turns fundamental physics upside down. In short, it shows that new anomalous states can exist in the atomic structure of all kinds of bodies.

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The time crystals they were first theorized in 2012 by Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek and initially identified in 2016. They exhibit the strange property of being in constant, repetitive motion over time, even though they are not externally “excited.” The atoms that compose them are constantly oscillating, turning or moving first in one direction and then in the other.

In contrast, in a standard crystal (such as ice crystals) the atoms are arranged in a pattern that repeats regularly in space.

Nothing is impossible for quantum physics

In a press release, the lead author of the new study, Dr. Samuli Autti, explained that everything indicates that perpetual motion machines are impossible for conventional physics.

However, in quantum physics, perpetual motion is possible “as long as we keep our eyes closed”, that is, as long as the observer does not intervene. By slipping through that “crack” of quantum mysteries, the researchers made possible the creation of time crystals.

In an experiment carried out at the Aalto University of Helsinki, in Finland, the group of scientists led by Autti observed time crystals using Helium-3which is a rare isotope of helium that is missing a neutron.

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The researchers cooled helium-3 to one ten-thousandth of a degree from absolute zero (-273.15 °C), creating two time crystals inside a superfluid, and then bringing them into contact. Later, they verified that the two time crystals interacted as described by quantum physics.

The coupled time crystals formed a two-level macroscopic systemwhich evolved over time intrinsically determined by nonlinear feedback, building spontaneous dynamics at these two levels and without requiring external intervention.

In addition to verifying this behavior, other studies have previously indicated that time crystals can also exist at room temperature.

Precisely, a “two-tier system” is a basic component of a quantum computer. A two-level system (also known as a two-state system) is a quantum system that can exist in any quantum superposition of two independent quantum states.

Time crystals could be used to build quantum devices that work at room temperature, paving the way for their arrival in real life, the researchers say.


Nonlinear two-level dynamics of quantum time crystals. Autti, S., Heikkinen, PJ, Nissinen, J. et al. Nature Communications (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-30783-w

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