The crystals of time, a new state of matter theorized in 2012 by MIT Nobel Prize winner Physics Frank Wilczek, have been refuted, observed and now finally filmed by a team of German and Polish researchers, according to a study published at the beginning of February (10) in Physical Review Letters.
Space-time crystals (STC) are arrangements of matter that are repeated over time. Unlike the crystals we know, like a diamond or a grain of salt, the crystals of time are solids that self-organize atomically in space and repeat their patterns over time. This means that their structure changes periodically, as if they were “mutant minerals”.
When the North American Wilczek theorized these structures in 2012, the possibility of the existence of a symmetry of matter in time was seen simply as scientific curiosity. However, just four years later, STC’s were experimentally demonstrated for quantum systems.
How did scientists manage to film time crystals?
To instrumentalize a purely theoretical concept, the researchers used magnons, a name given to the collective excitations of the spin structure of an electron within a crystalline compound. This allowed to demonstrate an STC activated at room temperature.
According to researcher Nick Trager, they took a regular pattern of magons in space and time, then “we sent more magons and they eventually spread.” The unprecedented experiment, which was filmed, showed the space-time crystal interacting with these quasiparticles.
In the experiment, Trager passed a radio frequency current through a strip of magnetic material placed on a microscopic antenna. Functioning as a microwave field, the magnetic waves “travel” across the strip on the left and right, condensing into a recurring pattern in space and time, which disappears and reappears alone.
Another researcher, Professor Pawel Gruszecki, argues that if classic crystals already have a huge field of applications, crystals that interact over time can add an infinite range of new applications.