By definition, a crystal is a solid whose components are regularly arranged in a certain structure. When we observe the arrangement under a microscope, we discover an atom or a molecule at the same intervals. The time crystal also has a similar physical property.
Instead of just existing in space, the recurring structure also occurs over time. Temporal crystals are therefore in a certain sense the spatiotemporal progression of crystals. This peculiarity was first theorized in 2012 by the physicist Frank Wilczek. Since then, scientists have been working on the search for materials with such a property.
Observations on a scanning x-ray microscope
This is the case of an international German-Polish research group that claims to have managed to create a time crystal of one micrometer. Consisting of magnons at room temperature – quasiparticles made up of collectively excited electrons that rotate in a precisely defined pattern – this was observed with a scanning X-ray microscope.
Note that the microscope in question is that of the ultra-modern synchrotron radiation facility at the HZB Center (Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin) in Germany. Thanks to this equipment, the experts were able to film the recurring periodic magnetization structure in the crystal.
Stronger and more widespread than previously thought
The research, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, was carried out jointly by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Adam Mickiewicz University (Poland) and the Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznan.
“We have succeeded in showing that these temporal crystals are much more robust and more widespread than previously thought,” said the university physicist Pawel Gruszecki from Adam Mickiewicz, explaining the importance and novelty of her work. In fact, no one had ever succeeded in observing the behavior of time crystals.
Many possible uses
As part of the experiment, the team placed a strip of magnetic material on a microscopic antenna. The tiny structure then received an electrical charge, specifically a high frequency current. This created an oscillating magnetic field. The waves moved from left to right and spontaneously condensed on the ribbon into a recurring pattern in space and time. The pattern that disappears and reappears on its own would be a quantum effect.
“Our crystal condensed at room temperature and could interact with particles – unlike in an isolated system (…). This could lead to many possible applications, ”Pawel added. In particular, the researchers propose uses in communication, imaging, and radar technology.