An international team of physicists has studied the controlled interaction of two spatially separated time crystals.
Time crystals are different from a standard crystal, which is composed of atoms arranged in a regularly repeating pattern in space.
First theorized in 2012 by Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek and identified in 2016, they exhibit the bizarre property of being in constant, repeating motion in time despite no external input.
Their atoms are constantly oscillating, spinning, or moving first in one direction, and then the other.
Time crystals have great potential for practical applications. They could be used to improve current atomic clock technology — complex timepieces that keep the most accurate time that we can possibly achieve.
They could also improve technology such as gyroscopes, and systems that rely on atomic clocks, such as GPS.
“Controlling the interaction of two time crystals is a major achievement,” said study lead author Dr. Samuli Autti, a researcher in the Department of Physics at Lancaster University and the Department of Applied Physics at Aalto University.
“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.”
Dr. Autti and colleagues observed time crystals by using helium-3, a rare isotope of helium with one missing neutron.
The physicists cooled superfluid helium-3 to within one ten thousandth of a degree from absolute zero (0.0001 K, or minus 273.15 degrees Celsius).
They then created two time crystals inside the superfluid, and allowed them to touch.
They observed the two time crystals interacting and exchanging constituent particles flowing from one time crystal to the other one, and back — a phenomenon known as the Josephson effect.
Their results were published in the journal Nature Materials.
S. Autti et al. AC Josephson effect between two superfluid time crystals. Nat. Mater, published online August 17, 2020; doi: 10.1038/s41563-020-0780-y
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