A team of physicists from TU Dortmund University have created the longest-lasting time crystal ever observed in a laboratory setting. The exotic crystal persisted for 40 minutes – over 10 million times longer than previous examples.
Time crystals are an exotic new form of matter that break time-translation symmetry, meaning their atoms are arranged in patterns that repeat cyclically over time without any external influence. First theorized in 2012, they were created in the lab starting around 2016. However, those initial crystals only lasted for milliseconds.
“Based on these results, we can imagine this type of hardware becoming a compact, highly flexible on-chip frequency standard,” the physicists wrote in their Nature Physics paper.
The new record-setting crystal was formed using the semiconductor indium gallium arsenide. When excited by polarized laser light, it began oscillating in stable patterns for 40 straight minutes before parts of it began to destabilize or “melt.”
While imperfect, the researchers believe they have laid the groundwork for even longer-lived time crystals that could persist for hours. This suggests exotic new physics that could one day revolutionize timekeeping devices and sensors by integrating a stable frequency reference directly into electronics hardware.
“We have opened a new door into a rich and exciting quantum world,” said Dr. Andrea Rubio, the study’s lead author. “There are still many mysteries to uncover, but our 40-minute milestone brings the vision of practical quantum timekeeping clearly into view.”
The endless ticks of a quantum clock, it seems, may soon keep time to a funky beat all their own – crystals that never stop pulsing, even as normal matter melts down all around them.