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article imageNew form of matter may advance quantum computing

By Tim Sandle     Mar 13, 2017 in Science
In what could overturn our understanding of physics, a new phase of matter has been created. This is called, colloquially at least, “a time crystal.” Here atoms appear to move in a pattern that repeats in time rather than in space.
Differences atomic movement between time and space may sound like a plot point in ‘Dr. Who’, but it is something that has been artificially created within a laboratory setting. With crystalline structures, like salt or snowflakes, the atoms are arranged in three-dimensional repeating patterns. With the new development, a crystal has been created whereby the atoms move in a pattern that repeats in time rather than in space. Alternatively, a time crystal can be viewed as a quantum phenomenon which has movement while remaining in its lowest energy state. This means it moves without spending energy and could oscillate forever without any external influence.
According to the website Futurism, if you imagine a sponge — when you release the sponge, it is expected to resume its shape. Now imagine now that the sponge only resumes its shape after every second squeeze even though you are applying the same force each time. This is what a time crystal does.
In terms of physical laws the atoms do not settle into the state of thermal equilibrium. This is a physical state where atoms have the same amount of heat. Two physical systems are said to be in thermal equilibrium if no heat flows between them when they are connected by a path permeable to heat.
With the new crystal, this is an example of a new class of matter termed “non-equilibrium phases.” Equilibrium thermodynamics ignores the time-courses of physical processes. In contrast, non-equilibrium thermodynamics attempts to describe their time-courses in continuous detail. Until now these discussions have been part of the field of theoretical physics but never realized in the laboratory.
The created crystals were from the element ytterbium. By applying an electrical field, the scientists levitated 10 ions above a surface. Following this they smashed the atoms with a laser pulse, causing them to flip over. After this the researchers hit the ions again and again, with the laser, in a regular rhythm. This set up a pattern of flips that repeated in time. This is known as time-translation symmetry.
Discussing the significance of the study, Dr. Andrew Potter, from The University of Texas at Austin, says: “this opens the door to a whole new world of non-equilibrium phases. We've taken these theoretical ideas that we've been poking around for the last couple of years and actually built it in the laboratory. Hopefully, this is just the first example of these, with many more to come."
As to the usefulness of the discovery the primary area is potentially with storing or transferring information in quantum computers. Since the quantum behavior in a time crystal is unaffected by outside forces, scientists see it as a potential tool for protecting the information stored in quantum computers. The research has been published in the journal Nature, in the paper “Observation of a discrete time crystal.”
More about time crystals, Matter, Physics, quantum computing, Computers
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