Physicists Created the First-Ever Time Crystals
By: April Carson
Researchers have created a time crystal for the first time that spontaneously breaks continuous time translation symmetry. The researchers, from the Institute of Laser Physics at Hamburg University, published their findings in the journal Science on June 9, 2022.
This is a significant achievement as time crystals had only been theorized to exist until now. Time crystals are a strange state of matter that have an atomic structure that repeats in time, like a three-dimensional crystal repeats in space. In a time crystal, the atoms would move rhythmically forever without any external energy source.
The concept of a time crystal was first proposed by Nobel Laureate Franck Wilczek. The time translation symmetry in a dynamic many-body system breaks when a time crystal is formed, much as the temperature symmetry in ice abruptly changes at 0°C and transforms into the crystalline order of -42°C around that temperature.
In order to create a time crystal, the researchers used an optical lattice, which is a regular array of sites for atoms that is created by intersecting laser beams. In their experiment, they used a two-dimensional triangular optical lattice and loaded it with about 1,500 rubidium-87 atoms. They then cooled the atoms to near absolute zero (-273°C), where they became a quantum gas.
In periodically driven closed and open quantum systems, scientists have already seen discrete or Floquet time crystals in the past. “However, in all previous experiments, the continuous-time translation symmetry was broken by a time-periodic drive,” says Dr. Hans Keßler from Prof. Andreas Hemmerich's group at CUI: Advanced Imaging of Matter Cluster of Excellence. “Our time crystal, on the other hand, is an autonomous system. We don’t have to drive it.”
To investigate their system further, the physicists next gently ramped up the laser power. This increased the lattice depth and changed the properties of their quantum gas in a controllable way. As they did so, they observed that the atoms began to self-organize into a triangular Wigner crystal. This is a special form of matter in which atoms arrange themselves into a symmetrical pattern similar to that found in chicken wire.
A Bose-Einstein condensate is used in an optical high-finesse cavity
Researchers applied a Bose-Einstein condensate inside an optical high-finesse cavity in their study. They observed a limit cycle phase, which is defined by emergent periodic oscillations of the intracavity photon number that are accompanied by atomic density cycling through recurring patterns using a time-independent pump.
They observed that the time phase of the vibrations has a 0 to 2π range, as predicted for continuously broken uniform symmetry. In the presence of strong time disturbances, the researchers demonstrated the robustness of the dynamic phase by defining the stability region in terms of parameters and demonstrating that limit cycle oscillations persist even after significant changes in time.
The physicists also observed that the time crystal exhibits a second, more robust phase known as a global phase, in which the system's symmetry is spontaneously broken and the emergent oscillations are locked to the pump frequency. In this phase, they showed that the time crystal is impervious to changes in time and can maintain its structure even in the presence of strong perturbations.
The researchers say their work is the first to create a continuous time crystal, which does not require an external drive. The findings could have implications for timekeeping and quantum computing.
The research was originally posted on Scitechdaily.com.
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