Ok, so you’d probably ask what the heck are time crystals and what are they doing in kids’ toys?
We’d have to define first what crystals are. Crystals—ordinary crystals—are defined as being a structure made of a homogeneous solid substance having a natural geometrically regular form with symmetrically arranged plane faces.
Crystals—like quartz or even salt—are composed of atoms that are arranged in a fixed grid. These atoms don’t move around. In other words, if we take a look at a diamond, for example, we will find that the atoms are arranged in a repeating pattern through space.
However, in time crystals these laws do not apply.
Atoms inside of Time Crystals tend to oscillate. These atoms have a tendency of spinning in one direction and when exposed to electromagnetic pulses, they switch direction and spin the opposite way.
However, when that same electromagnetic pulse is irregular, this doesn’t change as time crystals seem to be locked into a particular frequency which guards their irregularity.
In other words, the pattern behind time crystals repeats in time.
CURIOUS CRYSTAL A time crystal appears in monoammonium phosphate (shown). The spins of atomic nuclei in the crystal flip at regular intervals when hit with radio waves. Image Credit: Yale
Time crystals are composed of a bunch of interacting atoms that never ‘settle down’ to thermal equilibrium. They are like really cool rebel crystals.
Also dubbed DTC’s or Discrete Time Crystals, scientists at Yale discovered one made from monoammonium phosphate (MAP) crystals. Thee happen to be the crystals that kids know and love when they get them in toy kits to grow their own crystals at home. Which is why researchers at Yale were left stumped when they detected them.
Scientists used nuclear magnetic resonance to spot the DTC’s signature in a map crystal that had been intended for an entirely different test.
“We decided to try searching for the DTC signature ourselves,” said physicist Sean Barrett, senior author on two new papers about this discovery.
“Our crystal measurements looked quite striking right off the bat. Our work suggests that the signature of a DTC could be found, in principle, by looking in a children’s crystal growing kit.”
“We realized that just finding the DTC signature didn’t necessarily prove that the system had a quantum memory of how it came to be,” said Yale graduate student Robert Blum, co-author on the studies.
“This spurred us to try a time crystal ‘echo,’ which revealed the hidden coherence, or quantum order, within the system,” added lead study author Jared Rovny, also a Yale graduate student.
“It’s too early to tell what the resolution will be for the current theory of discrete time crystals, but people will be working on this question for at least the next few years,” Barrett said.
Scientists say that one day, time crystals could be used in atomic clocks, gyroscopes, and magnetometers, among other devices.