• Otávio Santiago

Time Crystals: The Building Blocks of The Future

Snow falls. Snow melts. Water evaporates. Snow returns.

Simple, no? Well, time crystals would beg to differ.

As the Laws of Thermodynamics go, atoms and molecules tend to settle in the state which costs them the least energy to hold. This is why you see snowflakes look the same over and over, why ice doesn’t show up from the freezer wearing fancy outfits, and why water is water and plasma is… plasma.

But that’s matter as we know it. Time crystals are something entirely different — they are the next phase of matter — one we have never seen before.

Until now.

Google’s researchers and a team of physicists at Stanford, Princeton, and other universities published a paper (you can read the paper here) that used Google’s quantum computer at Sycamore to demonstrate one of the first ever genuine time crystals.

But What Are Time Crystals?

A time crystal is a newly discovered phase of matter in which particles can move in a regular, repeating cycle without burning any energy. They can do this forever, essentially rendering the Second Law of Thermodynamics useless. A time crystal absorbs no energy from its surroundings to keep going; it just simply does.

And this brings us to snow. Snow is cold when it lands on Earth, but the heat around it gradually fills it and melts it back into water. This water — subject to the right amount of heat — evaporates and the cycle repeats. Time crystals do all this, but without needing any external heat. They go from being snow to water to snow and back again without using any energy at all.

Why Do Time Crystals Matter?

The answer begins with a question posed by one of the 20th century’s most important physicists — Richard Feynman. In the 1980s, Richard Feynman was hunting for a window into the quantum universe but ran into a major roadblock. The cost of the computing power he needed for quantum calculations rose exponentially as he dove deeper into the problem.

But then, as genius physicists usually do, he hit a breakthrough. He reasoned that classical computers, despite rising R&D investments, would never scale fast enough to keep pace with quantum physics’ calculations. So what if we built a computer made of quantum particles?

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