A New Phase of Matter is Discovered — The Time Crystal

There are interesting implications for the future of universal quantum computers and other technological advancements with this discovery.

Last month, a team of physicists from UC Berkeley said they’d created a blueprint for a new phase of matter called a time crystal. Their paper, in Physical Review Letters, turned what was once a pretty far out speculation into a practical recipe for cooking up a time crystal in a laboratory.

A time crystal isn’t something you can hold in your hands, and it isn’t something you can grow in your kitchen with some table salt and a glass of water. For a long time, the time crystal concept existed only on paper as a mathematical oddity. It’s only now that time crystals have been realized in a lab in (quantum) physical form.

Why spend all this time trying to understand time crystals? Well, despite being pretty esoteric, this breakthrough is a big deal—after all, it’s not every day that you come up with a practical recipe for an entirely new phase of matter, albeit one that is quite different from solids, liquids, and gases. Time crystals might one day have technological implications, too. For example, time crystals may form the basis for a nearly perfect memory unit for powerful quantum computers. Still, one of the most exciting things about time crystals is that because they’re so new and exotic, even physicists can’t get a grasp of their full potential yet.