Time crystals dodge the second law of thermodynamics, Thanos’ style

People call it a breakthrough, a new phase of matter – Google’s invention of time crystals has turned science and technology upside down. No, we’re not talking about one of the six physics-defying stones escaping Thanos’ grip. It is real science that apparently challenges our current understanding of physics.

Here is a discovery that could bring us closer to the most precise and the most powerful atomic clocks, gyroscopes and magnetometers to date, but that’s just the icing on the cake. Who knows what other practical applications a discovery of this magnitude might have.

In Google’s Sycamore quantum processor, weird things are brewing. As theorized nine years ago by theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek, a new state of matter has been reached. By detonating strips of superconducting aluminum with microwaves, the system’s qubits – which encode ones and zeros in quantum computing – were put into a kind of perpetual motion.

A report from Cornell University, named Observation of Time-Crystalline Eigenstate Order on a Quantum Processor, notes “We demonstrate the characteristic spatiotemporal response of a DTC for generic initial states. Our work uses a time inversion protocol that discriminates the external decoherence of intrinsic thermalization, and exploits quantum typicality to circumvent the exponential cost of dense sampling of the eigen spectrum. “

Put simply: “They’re just kind of flip flops,” says Bournemouth physicist Curt von Keyserlingk. “It doesn’t end up looking random, it just hangs up. It’s like remembering what it looked like initially, and it repeats that pattern over time.”

What this basically means is that maybe it’s time to rethink the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The second law basically states that entropy (or disorder) will always increase. This is why perpetual motion machines have still not been invented, at least potentially, until now.

Hold a coin in Bioshock Infinite

(Image credit: 2K Games)

Talking to Live Science, Loughborough physicist Achilleas Lazarides (who was part of the original theory discovery) describes time crystals as an ever-swinging pendulum. The Second Law dictates, “Even if you totally physically isolate a pendulum from the universe, so there is no friction and no resistance from the air, it will eventually stop.” This “thermalization” simply does not occur in the case of time crystals.

“The energy starts out by being concentrated in the center of mass of the pendulum, but there are all of these internal degrees of freedom, like how atoms can vibrate inside the rod, where it will eventually be transferred. “

Eventually, the discovery of time crystals could translate into supreme quantum computing technology. At least now, while researchers are in the very early stages of experimentation, it seems to indicate deep insights into how the universe works. It’s not concrete at this point, however, and quantum physics isn’t an easy thing to explain, let alone research – keep that in mind.

Now I just have a huge urge to play Bioshock Infinite.

About Leslie Schwartz

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