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For the First Time, Scientists Saw How 'Time Crystals' Interact

The 'time crystal' experiment with helium-3 showed interaction that could help advance GPS tech.

Scientists successfully observed the interaction of a new phase of matter called "time crystals" for the first time, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature Materials.

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Scientists saw how 'time crystals' interact for the first time

Scientists observed a new phase of matter called "time crystals" interact for the very first time. This could lead to new advances in quantum information processing — since time crystals automatically retain their structure — a state called coherent — in changing conditions. Maintaining coherence is the main obstacle to the creation of powerful quantum computers, reports phys.org.

Lead author of the study Samuli Autti of Lancaster University said: "Controlling the interaction of two time crystals is a major achievement. Before this, nobody had observed two time crystals in the same system, let alone seen them interact."

"Controlled interactions are the number one item on the wish list of anyone looking to harness a time crystal for practical applications, such as quantum information processing," Autti added, according to phys.org.

Theory, mechanics of 'time crystals'

Unlike ordinary crystals in metals or rocks — composed of atoms arranged in a repeating pattern through space — time crystals are arranged differently.

Initially theorized by Novel Laureate Frank Wilczek and discovered in 2016, time crystals possess a bizarre property of maintaining constant, repeating motion through time with no external additions of force.

Their atoms continually oscillate, or spin — moving in one direction, then another.

The international team of researchers hail from Yale, Lancaster, Royal Holloway London, and Aalto University in Helsinki, and saw the time crystals using a rare helium isotope called Helium-3, which has one less neutron. The experiment was also completed at Aalto University.

Helium-3 experiment shows particle exchange

The experiment saw the cooling of the superfluid helium-3 to within one ten-thousandth of a degree above absolute zero (-273.15°C, or 0.0001 K). After cooling, the researchers created two time crystals inside the superfluid, and let them make contact with one another.

This is when they saw the two time crystals interact and exchange constituent particles, which flowed from one to the other, and back — a phenomenon called the Josephson effect.

Time crystals could lead to many practical applications, from improving atomic clock technology to gyroscopes, and even GPS systems.

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