New approach could bring time crystals out of the lab and into the real world

(ORDO NEWS) — We have just taken another step towards creating time crystals that can be used for practical purposes.

New experimental work has made it possible to obtain a room temperature time crystal in a system that is not isolated from the environment.

This, the researchers say, paves the way for chip-scale time crystals that can be used in real-world environments, away from the expensive lab equipment needed to keep them running.

“When your experimental system is exchanging energy with its environment, dissipation and noise work hand in hand to destroy the temporal order,” says engineer Hossein Taheri of the University of California, Riverside.

“In our photonic platform, the system achieves a balance between gain and loss by creating and storing time crystals.”

Time crystals, sometimes also called space-time crystals, whose existence was confirmed only a few years ago, are as fascinating as their name. They are a phase of matter that is very similar to ordinary crystals, with one very important additional property.

In ordinary crystals, their constituent atoms are arranged in a fixed three-dimensional lattice structure – a good example is the atomic lattice of diamond or quartz. These repeating grids may differ in configuration, but within a given formation they do not move very much, they only repeat spatially.

In time crystals, atoms behave somewhat differently. They oscillate, rotating first in one direction and then in the other. These oscillations – they are called “ticks” – are fixed at a regular and specific frequency. If the structure of ordinary crystals is repeated in space, then in time crystals it is repeated in space and time.

To study time crystals, scientists often use Bose-Einstein condensates of magnon quasiparticles. They must be stored at extremely low temperatures, very close to absolute zero. This requires very specialized, sophisticated laboratory equipment.

In their new study, Taheri and his team created a temporary crystal without hypothermia. Their time crystals were all-optical quantum systems created at room temperature. First, they took a tiny microresonator, a disc of magnesium fluoride glass just one millimeter in diameter. They then bombarded this optical microresonator with beams from two lasers.

Self-perpetuating subharmonic bursts (solitons) occurring at frequencies generated by two laser beams indicated the creation of time crystals. The system creates a rotating lattice-trap for optical solitons, which then exhibit periodicity.

To maintain system integrity at room temperature, the team used self-injection blocking, a technique that ensures that a certain optical frequency is maintained at the output of the laser. This means the system can be taken out of the lab and used for field applications, the researchers say.

In addition to potential future research into the properties of time crystals, such as phase transitions and time crystal interactions, the system could be used for new measurements of time itself. Time crystals can even be integrated into quantum computers.

“We hope that this photonic system can be used in compact and lightweight RF sources with excellent stability as well as accurate timing,” says Taheri.

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