- New research shows that time crystals can be paired in two-crystal systems.
- This means that time crystals could be used in quantum computers, perhaps even at room temperature.
- Time crystals appear to defy the laws of physics by displaying perpetual motion.
The future of quantum computing could be paved with a new form of matter: the time crystal.
In new research, scientists have found a way to link two time crystals together in a cooperative linked system. The result could be an even bigger step towards the unlikely idea of a perpetual motion machine – something with far-reaching and astronomical possibilities if ever realized.
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Time crystals offer all the benefits of traditional quantum computing, with the added benefit of their seemingly endless energy, as described by a team from Aalto University in southern Finland, who published their findings more early this month in the review Nature Communication. By linking two time crystals together, researchers are more likely to be able to develop a quantum computer that works at room temperature, a purely ambitious feat at the moment.
We need to talk about quantum computers
The umbrella term “quantum computers” refers to ongoing research and prototypes that sometimes involve up to eight or more “bits” of particles at once. These bits use superposition – the ability to be “in two places at once”, a concept that underlies quantum mechanics’ penchant for efficient and fast computer calculations.
Your current personal computer, although not a quantum machine, essentially operates by a rapid series of particles that come and go. Overlaying machine code and user interfaces rely on these underlying electrical exchanges. Time crystals could help physicists make a breakthrough in quantum computing, leading to machines that are faster than today’s. Basically, a time crystal can be used for quantum computing because it is an unlikely, almost paradoxical particle that stays in constant motion with no cause or end.
Scientists have known about time crystals for about a decade and have had real examples of them only since 2016. The term “crystal” is technical, referring to a substance in which particles arrange themselves in an orderly fashion as a result of natural factors or a current. Think of how water freezes, forming crystals that meander in all directions. Because the particles order themselves with geometric precision, this leads to features such as natural flat facets or regular polygonal cross-sections. This means that time crystals are also defined by their adherence to the lattice structure, organizing themselves in a more regular pattern than the puzzle at the Cracker Barrel.
Paired time crystals will help make quantum computing a reality
So far, time crystals have not engaged with each other in multiples; they vibrated separately. In this new research, scientists have for the first time a pair of time crystals that work as a team – a must-do if quantum computing with time crystals will ever become a reality.
Why is this the first time there are paired time crystals? It is a phase of matter little understood and almost unheard of. So there is still a lot of research to be done before scientists fully explain how they work. And second, they are particularly difficult to study. This is because time crystals are notoriously fragile under observation, which means that as soon as we try to study them, they tend to go out of phase. The observation, in this case, is a quantum mechanical phenomenon embodied by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. As soon as a system is observed and measured, it changes.
Nevertheless, it is a good time to study time crystals. Pairing time crystals could make a huge difference in the quest for quantum computing, or better yet, the quest for ambient temperature quantum computing. Certain materials and scenarios have the potential to form time crystals at temperatures much higher than the near absolute zero often required, such as the phenomena seen in nickel-iron alloy and even light itself.
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