Berkeley lab conceptualizes design of space-time crystal

09.28.time.COURTESY
Berkeley Lab/Staff

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists have released the design of a crystal that could keep perfect time even when there is no longer life in the universe.

A team of international researchers led by scientists from the Berkeley lab have turned concept into practical design with the creation of a plan to build a space-time crystal — a four-dimensional crystal that can rotate continuously at the lowest quantum energy state in some magnetic fields.

For this reason, the crystal will theoretically keep perfect time even after the universe can no longer support energy consumption processes and suffers what is known as “heat-death.” The creation of a space-time crystal will also offer new insight into many-body physics and quantum information storage.

Head researcher Xiang Zhang, a scientist with the Materials Sciences Division of the Berkeley lab, and his team are the first to propose an actual space-time crystal design. The journal Physical Review Letters accepted the paper authored by Zhang and his team outlining their findings on Sept. 6. The paper is titled “Space-time crystals of trapped ions.”

“A space-time crystal has periodic structures in both space and time,” said lead author Tongcang Li in an email. “This ion crystal can rotate persistently at the lowest quantum energy state in certain magnetic fields. The persistent rotation of trapped ions produces the temporal order, leading to the formation of a space-time crystal.”

Along with Zhang and Li, Zhe-Xuan Gong, Zhang-Qi Yin, H.T. Quan, Xiaobo Yin, Peng Zhang and L-M Duan are listed as co-authors on the paper.

After MIT physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek proved the space-time crystal’s mathematical possibility earlier this year, the research team enhanced and redirected another project toward the space-time crystal. An early draft of the research paper was shared online in June.

“They have outlined a specific design for an experimental set-up that will give a concrete, convincing proof of principle,” Wilczek said in an email. “If it’s reasonably simple and robust to achieve, it can be something we can build on, possibly to make devices.”

Now that they have turned Wilczek’s math into an actual design, Zhang and his team are preparing to start experimentation.

“Building a space-time crystal is not only important for confirming the conceptual breakthrough, but (it) also provides an experimental system for exploring new properties of space-time crystals that are hard to imagine,” Li said in the email.

Contact Libby Rainey at [email protected]