A time crystal like no other


Crystals are interesting objects for physicists. And perhaps even more, what they call time crystals. Strange states of matter that could greatly advance quantum computing.

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[EN VIDÉO] Formation of a crystal on an atomic scale
A salt crystal is filmed during its formation with a resolution never achieved before: atomic! © 2021 American Chemical Society

For researchers, a crystal is a solid whose structure is ordered. periodic. Understand that it repeats in all three dimensions of space. Easy enough to imagine. It is by remembering the link that the theory of relativity ofEinstein between space and time that some, Frank Wilczek in mind – Nobel prize of physics in 2004 for his work on the theory of strong interaction -, he began to dream of the existence of time crystals whose patterns would repeat themselves not only in space, but also in time. Time crystals that could be very useful for the development of quantum computing.

It was 2012. It took five years for a team to create the first ever crystal; and still five years later, much progress has been made in this area. Today, some physicists of the University of Hamburg (Germany) present the first time crystal that spontaneously breaks the translational symmetry of time continuously.

In yellow, the cold atoms that make up the Bose-Einstein condensate condense into a high-fineness optical cavity.  Atoms that are about to form a time crystal.  © AG Hemmerich, University of Hamburg

A Bose-Einstein condensate and a high-fineness optical cavity

The translational symmetry of time? The principle that the same laws of physics rule our world today as they ruled yesterday. How they will also regulate that of tomorrow. But just as the translational symmetry of the system spontaneously breaks down as water turns to ice around its freezing point, the translational symmetry of time breaks down when a time crystal is formed. Under the influence of excitement.

Thanks to a Bose-Einstein condensate positioned within a high-fineness optical cavity and using a time-independent pump, the physical they were able to accurately observe the oscillations of the system foreseen for a continuous breaking of the symmetry of the time translation. A pause that is maintained even when strong disturbances occur.

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