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The Quest To Crystallize Time - Previously Considered Impossible, Researchers Create Time Crystals (nature.com) 129

New submitter omaha393 writes: Researchers have addressed a perplexing issue in physics: the existence of time crystals. Time crystals, previously only hypothetical in nature, are structures that oscillate without any external energy supplied. The idea of time crystals set off a massive feud among physicists, arguing that such a state of matter could not exist. As leading time crystal proponent Frank Wilczek describes it: "conceptually, it is a clock that ticks forever without being wound." With the paper published in Nature Wednesday, researchers showed their method of production and the unusual nature of time crystals, which owe their oscillation properties to never achieving a state of equilibrium. From a report on Phys.org: Ordinary crystals such as diamonds, quartz or ice are made up of molecules that spontaneously arrange into orderly three-dimensional patterns. The sodium and chlorine atoms in a crystal of salt, for example, are spaced at regular intervals, forming a hexagonal lattice. In time crystals, however, atoms are arranged in patterns not only in space, but also in time. In addition to containing a pattern that repeats in space, time crystals contain a pattern that repeats over time. One way this could happen is that the atoms in the crystal move at a certain rate. Were a time crystal of ice to exist, all of the water molecules would vibrate at an identical frequency. What is more, the molecules would do this without any input from the outside world. [...] Shivaji Sondhi, a Princeton professor of physics said that the work addresses some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of matter. "It was thought that if a system doesn't settle down and come to equilibrium, you couldn't really say that it is in a phase. It is a big deal when you can give a definition of a phase of matter when the matter is not in equilibrium," he said.
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The Quest To Crystallize Time - Previously Considered Impossible, Researchers Create Time Crystals

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  • by hbean ( 144582 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @04:06PM (#54001797)
    ...Physics...you crazy!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Hexagonal lattice in NaCl?! NaCl forms a cubic lattice!

    Yes I'm a crystallographer!

    • A cube looks like a hexagon, looking down the long diagonal.

      • Re:What the... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @06:53PM (#54002887)

        Hexagonal lattice in NaCl?! NaCl forms a cubic lattice!

        Yes I'm a crystallographer!

        A cube looks like a hexagon, looking down the long diagonal.

        The NaCl structure is two interpenetrating FCC lattices of A and X, offset by {1/4, 0, 0} relative to the NaCl cubic unit cell (but by {1/2, 0, 0} relatively between the FCC sub-cells. In space-group symmetry notation, it is F m 3-bar m, in terms of its fundamental (that is most-basically-expressible, reduced unit cell).

        In the same manner that an FCC atomic arrangement could be expressed as having a hexagonal unit cell, with it not being the fundamental cell, but instead a multiple formula-unit cell – a supercell – one could do the same with NaCl. I've not had my coffee, but intuitively a supercell double-sized this one could similarly be used to define the crystal structure of NaCl. Not optimal, but possible. Look in the front-matter section of your Space-Groups tome to look up the matrix conversion to transform the atomic positions from one fundamental lattice-type to another.

        Put more simply, while HEXAGONAL is ABABAB stacking, FCC is ABCABC stacking of close-packed layers of atoms.

        Yes, I am also a crystallographer.

        • Oh wow, I wish I had mod points. This is exactly the kind of post I read slashdot for.
          • Oh wow, I wish I had mod points. This is exactly the kind of post I read slashdot for.

            Thx. I always wonder whether my posts get read by any people or not. It's good to hear that effort is not wasted.

            I, too, read Slashdot for the good Comments, specifically the detailed or highly insightful ones... voices I would not hear otherwise.

            (You can find this also in some FARK threads, although the lack of a mod system means that you have to sift through everything chronologically to find that occasional Comment "from a guy who was there during the ********* event", or "from readers with deep knowle

        • by Anonymous Coward
          A real 4 dimensional salt based TIMECUBE!
    • Yes I'm a crystallographer!

      But do you use FORTRAN?

  • Do these physicist get to collect some money from Ray?
    • by lgw ( 121541 )

      I dunno, looks like their proving time cube, to me. They may owe him royalties.

      • That's what I read in the headline until I checked it again. I'm not sure it's possible to prove the Time Cube without daytime drinking.
  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @04:21PM (#54001891) Journal

    I read the linked article (which is a summary of the real report). It's not my field.

    How is what they describe anything other than just a stable oscillator? It consumes energy, since to run it requires regular (although perhaps not periodic?) pulses of light.

    How is this different from a macroscopic tuned circuit that also resists changes in driving force, and oscillates at a stable frequency? Because it's made with a handful of atoms instead of gazoober electrons streaming around a circuit? I'm (not intentionally) being snarky -- I'm curious because by the article the physicists are peeing all over themselves in excitement, so I'm guessing they think there's something to this that I don't see.

    • Thx. That was more explicit than the technobabble and platitude ridden "summary".

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The Great Oz has spoken.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Also well outside my field but the breakthrough comes from "the experimental observation of discrete time translational symmetry breaking into" a time crystal, whereas traditional oscillating systems cannot break symmetry. The hype also surrounds its potential applications for quantum computing, b asically providing a potential path for quantum simulations without cryogenic (near absolute zero temperature) systems.
      Please, if any physicist can explain symmetry breaking that would be great.

    • It consumes energy, since to run it requires regular (although perhaps not periodic?) pulses of light.

      Exactly. How the heck is this supposedly a "time crystal", since it doesn't meet the criteria given ("without any external energy supplied")? To me, the gist of this submission seems like typical pseudo-scientific babble, attempting to pretend the phys.org paper says something it doesn't.

      BTW the real science is still pretty darn cool.

      • by TooManyNames ( 711346 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @05:30PM (#54002409)

        It's a "time crystal" in the sense that the quantum states of the structure exhibit a precisely recurring pattern in time. Some energy is required to maintain that pattern, but the pattern doesn't depend on specifics of that energy supply (i.e. one voltage produces the same oscillation frequency as a different voltage). That's enough to satisfy most definitions of "time crystal," though it falls well short of the much narrower definition that requires recurring oscillations without any energy input.

        This is indeed real science, though.

        • It's a "time crystal" in the sense that the quantum states of the structure exhibit a precisely recurring pattern in time.

          So it is a crystal where the oscillations are synchronized, or at least that's how most physicists would describe it if they were not trying to hype it up and make it sound cool. Perhaps we could try this with 1st year physics: by the same logic we can describe waves on a string as "time waves" because each point on the string moves over time and is synchronized to each other point via a constant phase difference.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      How is this different from a macroscopic tuned circuit that also resists changes in driving force, and oscillates at a stable frequency?

      This oscillation seem to have no relation to the frequency of the driving force and happen in the same lattice (Look mommy, no capacitors!). It would be like a simple electric engine of which operating frequency can't be determined from the input. This is what I think I understood about the article.

    • by TooManyNames ( 711346 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @05:24PM (#54002375)

      It's different from a macroscopic tuned circuit in that the driving energy is decoupled from the resulting oscillations. Basically, some energy is indeed required to maintain the crystalline (repeating pattern) structure in time, but that pattern is precise and does not depend on the energy supplied. In a typical oscillating circuit, on the other hand, you would indeed see recurring oscillations for a given supply voltage, for example, but if you vary that voltage, the oscillations settle to a quite significantly different frequency.

      This isn't a perpetual motion machine, but it does exhibit characteristics that are nonetheless really cool and potentially quite useful, and it does so by relying on what is essentially a new matter phase previously though to be impossible.

      • by pz ( 113803 )

        Ah, no. A stable oscillator can be easily constructed that fully resists changes in input (power supply) voltage. Your $5 quartz watch has one. From that perspective I really only see a difference being one of scale: this is a first only because it has been done on an atomic level.

        And now that I happened to use the word "atomic", that makes me question: what's the difference between this and the cesium oscillator in an atomic clock?

    • I read the linked article (which is a summary of the real report). It's not my field.

      How is what they describe anything other than just a stable oscillator? It consumes energy, since to run it requires regular (although perhaps not periodic?) pulses of light.

      The stable oscillation (in time) is not physical, but rather an oscillation of subatomic particle (electron?) spin-flipping.

      That is, it's not a 10-atom-long little guitar string oscillating at its (the object's) resonant frequency, with all other frequencies somehow quenched. (This was actually my first thought, too.) But, the linked Nature News article goes on to make it clear this is not a phonon-ralated nor atomic-motion-related phenomenon. Note where that first-described experiment describes the ytte

    • It's an oscillator that flips particles spin value regardless of the external force. You can control particle spin one way or the other by exerting a certain power using a laser. In this instance they noticed that under specific circumstances they could make the particles flip its spin all on its own regardless of what direction the laser would typically force it to do at least if they didn't shine the laser hard enough to break the symmetry. In that way they behave like crystals, unless you smash the cryst

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @04:24PM (#54001919)

    It must be true! This is a repeated article, and just like real time crystals, nothing beneficial can be derived from it!

    https://science.slashdot.org/story/17/01/28/2027253/scientist-investigate-a-brand-new-form-of-matter-time-crystals [slashdot.org]

    • Until something useful can be made out of the many theoretical "things" proposed these days, likely to get grant money, I'll watch as more people begin to view science as either magic or just plain bullshit. We need to return to scientific rigor, not wild speculations.
      • The actual experiment is scientifically rigorous, and it does yield something quite useful: namely, it yields an oscillator that will oscillate at the same frequency regardless of the supply energy. If you don't think there's a use for that, you've probably never contemplated how your CPU or memory system actually, you know, works.

        By the way, it'll probably be quite some time before this oscillator ends up on an SoC, but that's not the point; the point is that there are some immediately conceivable use case

  • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @04:28PM (#54001939)

    Shouldn't this violate the Law of Conservation of Energy? Or is this literally the achievement of what would have normally been thought of as an asymptote to infinity, where no energy can be extracted from this closed system and it's perpetuating on merely perfect conservation of the energy that was introduced into the system when it was established?

    • I think of it like the moon rotating the earth......constant perpetual motion, but no energy input.
      • Then you thought wrong, because these "time crystals" take an enormous amount of energy.
    • Shouldn't this violate the Law of Conservation of Energy?

      No, since energy is repeatedly being added to the system (read the linked Nature news item and ignore what the Slashdot submitter wrote).

      • by TWX ( 665546 )

        Sounds like an analogy to an infinite-loop game of Go, where the flipping begets more flipping to where previously flipped pieces are flipped again and continue spreading, so long as one keeps flipping the pieces...

    • Shouldn't this violate the Law of Conservation of Energy? Or is this literally the achievement of what would have normally been thought of as an asymptote to infinity, where no energy can be extracted from this closed system and it's perpetuating on merely perfect conservation of the energy that was introduced into the system when it was established?

      It's perpetual motion, yes. But, it costs a lot of energy to keep it in that state.

      Even within the time crystal, it is a zero-sum game, in the sense that no "excess" energy could be harvested from it.

      So, don't go running to the Patent Office.

  • by Vitriol+Angst ( 458300 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @04:30PM (#54001959)

    I think it's flawed logic to assume that the lowest energy state in a universes so fluid and in motion would be absolute stillness.

    Perhaps it's oscillations due to the quantum foam, or space/time itself moves, and thus a lower energy particle would vibrate at some frequency rather than not.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      I think it's flawed logic to assume that the lowest energy state in a universes so fluid and in motion would be absolute stillness. Perhaps it's oscillations due to the quantum foam, or space/time itself moves, and thus a lower energy particle would vibrate at some frequency rather than not.

      There's only one thing that's certain about quantum mechanics, when you finally think you've wrapped your brain around the concept you discover there's a whole new layer of weird. If it's really created by God this was his acid trip.

  • If, as the summary quoted, "Time crystals,... are structures that oscillate without any external energy supplied", how did they come to be? Spontaneously? Apparently not.

    So these researchers "showed their method of production ", one that requires no external energy be applied to the time crystals, or their source materials?

    And this is why I am not a physicist.

    • If, as the summary quoted, "Time crystals,... are structures that oscillate without any external energy supplied", how did they come to be?

      If you read the linked news item in Nature, you'll see that the summary is incorrect - energy is being added to the system, repeatedly.

      • If, as the summary quoted, "Time crystals,... are structures that oscillate without any external energy supplied", how did they come to be?

        If you read the linked news item in Nature, you'll see that the summary is incorrect - energy is being added to the system, repeatedly.

        My faith in slashdot has been severely shaken by the news that the summary and editing of this story is not 100% accurate.

  • after all.

    All those physicists who rejected my permanent magnet wheel idea without even the courtesy of a reply will not be feeling so smug now. :-)

    • The summary is pretty bad (shocking, I know). One type of time crystal would be like a perpetual motion machine, but that's not what the actual article claims was developed; instead, the time crystal developed requires energy to maintain its crystalline state, but the crystal structure itself is not dependent on specifics of the input energy.
  • Or anywhere else in the physical universe, unless some special laws apply. If you create a form of matter that is "stuck" in time, that matter will be locked in a spot in the physical universe.

    The problem we will have is that the Earth is spinning, the Earth is going around the Sun, the solar system is swirling within the Milky Way, and the Galaxy exists in a universe that is expanding. Once you remove a physical object from relativity, all hell will break loose. From our perspective, that material will roc

  • by grep -v '.*' * ( 780312 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @04:57PM (#54002193)
    Thiotimoline [wikipedia.org]

    The major peculiarity of the chemical is its "endochronicity": when it is mixed with water, it starts dissolving before it makes contact with water. Two of the carbon's four chemical bonds lie in normal space and time, one of the bonds projects into the future and another into the past.
    • by q4Fry ( 1322209 )

      I don't remember the specifics of Thiotimoline, but I think if it existed with the properties that Asimov invented, (and you were the only one who knew), you could make a ton of money on the stock market. If you set up a system to dump TTL into the solvent when a market trigger was hit, you could measure prices in the future and act on them in the present.

  • Whatever they thing they have created, according to interpretation of their instruments, which uses statistics and probability, is not time. Time is a derived characteristic of an observed process and does not exist as an independent phenomena. Whatever they have convinced themselves it is, it is not time.
  • "Time crystals, previously only hypothetical in nature, are structures that oscillate without any external energy supplied."

    That would seem to violate some pesky law of physics, but what do I know.

    If true, it has some staggering implications. Perhaps in 100 years their use will be so commonplace that they'll be regarded the same way electricity is today- as a basic part of the universe that is taken for granted.

  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2017 @06:32PM (#54002763)

    The Quest To Crystallize Time - Previously Considered Impossible... ...a massive feud among physicists...

    The combination of this kind of nonsense with big, glossy pictures does a huge disservice to science. On the one hand, it puts those of us who actually have even a basic knowledge about physics, off our lunch, because it is so, I don't know, either disingenious or perhaps written by idiots who don't understand what they are talking about. And on the other hand, it gives the more naive readers the impression that science is something remote and inaccessible; something that is out of this world and certainly out of ordinary people's league; IOW it discourages those who are interested, but not yet experienced enough from believing they could ever be clever enough to do science. I think it is shameful.

    Instead of reading this kind of crap, we should encourage people to take part in things like citizen science; real science and research are things that ordinary people can do, and have done in the past, producing important, real results.

  • I can have a Sonic Screwdriver and a Light Saber

  • Reading TFA, these "time crystals" are hardly the everlasting clocks of the summary. They are defects in crystals that flip spins at a different frequency than the exciting energy would normally flip. Some consider them loopholes in the definition.

    Regardless, it's pretty interesting. I don't think I'll put in my order fr the eternal clock oscillator just yet though.

  • If I understood correctly, this time crystal does not oscillate on its own, the researcher have to feed it with laser bursts.
  • Did time crystals just make entropy irrelevant?
  • They are just going through a phase and need some more time to settle down.

  • From TFA:

    "... it would not be in its lowest energy state, and it would require a regular kick to pulse."

    and

    "The recipe was incredibly complex, but just three ingredients were essential: a force repeatedly disturbing the particles, a way to make the atoms interact with each other and an element of random disorder."

    So, no perpetual motion machine. However, maybe if they used a nice hot cup of tea to generate brownian motion as the source of random disorder, perhaps this could be a step towards inve

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