A quantum computer confirms that time crystals are a new phase of matter • Trends21

A quantum computer has confirmed that there is a new state of matter called the time crystal, a kind of perpetual motion machine that revolutionizes fundamental physics and suggests that there may be new anomalous regimes in the atomic structure of many bodies.

Researchers from Stanford University, Google Quantum AI, the Max Planck Institute for Complex Systems Physics, and the University of Oxford, have created a time crystal using Google’s Sycamore quantum computing hardware.

A time crystal is a new phase of matter, predicted in 2012 by the Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Frank Wilczek, whose atomic structure repeats itself, not only through space, but also through time.

The atoms of crystalline solids, such as diamond, are arranged in an orderly fashion in a repeating pattern throughout the space they occupy.

Physicists have been wondering for almost a decade whether there could also be crystalline solids whose atomic structure could also repeat itself through time: they have called this hypothetical structure time crystals.

Related topic: Time could have the structure of a crystal

Quantum paradox

If it existed, the time crystal should be able to achieve something paradoxical: preserve the atomic stability typical of crystalline solids, but at the same time change its crystalline structure periodically, recovering its initial configuration after this transformation.

That would mean that, while diamonds can be eternal, because they keep their atomic structure intact, the time crystals would be changing eternally, without any additional input of energy, like a watch that works forever without batteries.

They would be like some kind of perpetual motion machine that benefits from the principle of conservation of energy, but that violates at the same time the Second principle of thermodynamics, according to which energy is neither created nor destroyed: it is simply transformed.

Quantum time crystal

The new research has found that this surprising phase of matter, different from the solid, liquid, gas and plasma phases, really exist.

It is also different from Bose-Einstein Condensate, another state of matter that is obtained when certain materials reach temperatures close to absolute zero: at that moment, their atoms become a single entity with quantum properties.

The confirmation of the time crystals has been achieved thanks to a quantum computer, thus culminating a long process of previous research that has been paving the way to the finding now achieved.

For some reason, Wilczek called this phase that he had imagined quantum time crystal: it has been necessary to resort to Google’s Sycamore processor, capable of performing in just 200 seconds a task for which the world’s fastest supercomputer would need 10,000 years, to confirm its existence.

Quantum laboratory

To achieve this, the researchers carried out a series of “experiments” treating this quantum computer as a laboratory to test whether the proposed time crystal met certain requirements.

The result obtained is the first to verify experimentally that a phase of matter can exist outside of thermal equilibrium, stand out Physic World.

This magazine also highlights that it is the first time that all the requirements for a phase of imbalance of matter have been rigorously verified.

There is another indirect result of this research no less relevant: that even intermediate scale quantum processors (NISQ), such as Sycamore, have important implications for our understanding of physics.

New opportunities

That means that this research lays the fundamental foundation for the use of NISQ devices in the study of imbalance phenomena, according to the scientists.

Researchers highlight this in a release that the importance of his finding lies, not only in the creation of a new phase of matter, but also in the opening of opportunities to explore new regimes in the field of condensed matter physics, which studies the macroscopic physical characteristics of The matter.

They add that Sycamore’s results provide a practical benchmark for other quantum processor-based experiments combined with classical computing.

Model for the future

They consider that they have only studied a small corner of possible physics so far, and that quantum processors allow entirely new physical regimes to be accessible and relevant. They add that their work should serve as a model for these future explorations.

They conclude that quantum computing is configured as the necessary platform for the development of fundamental physics, potentially capable of discovering phenomena that have not even been imagined yet.

The lead author of this research, Vedika Khemani, an assistant professor of physics at Stanford University, was awarded the Breakthrough Prize Foundation’s New Horizons in Physics award this year ‘for her pioneering theoretical work in formulating new phases of quantum matter that is not in equilibrium, including time crystals. ‘

After having verified the existence of time crystals, Khemani considers that “although much of our understanding of the physics of condensed matter is based on equilibrium systems, these new quantum devices offer us a fascinating window into new regimes of not equilibrium in the physics of many bodies ».


Time-Crystalline Eigenstate Order on a Quantum Processor. Xiao Mi et al. Nature (2021). DOI: https: //doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-04257-w

Top photo: The Google Sycamore chip used in creating a time crystal. (Image credit: Google Quantum AI)

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A quantum computer confirms that time crystals are a new phase of matter • Trends21