Yale Physicists Discover Evidence of Mysterious 'Time Crystals' Hidden in a Child's Toy

Thursday, 03 May 2018 - 12:22PM
Physics
Thursday, 03 May 2018 - 12:22PM
Yale Physicists Discover Evidence of Mysterious 'Time Crystals' Hidden in a Child's Toy
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Unsplash/Fabrizio Verrecchia
Of all the weird, random things from Rick and Morty to actually come true, we never guessed "time crystals" would be one of them. Even more strangely, Rick & Morty wasn't too far off the mark. In the show, time crystals break the universe into different yet symmetrical timelines. In reality, time crystals break their own symmetry across time. Now, scientists from Yale have discovered evidence of a time crystal in the absolute last place they expected: the same type of crystals in those do-it-yourself junior scientist kits.

Let's back up and talk about time crystals. They're a new, incredibly esoteric state of matter discovered in 2016 that confirmed the theories of Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek (who proposed them back in 2012). Your average crystal is made up of atoms that form repeating patterns in space – usually lattices, but sometimes grids. If you photographed those patterns every second for twenty seconds, you'd see that the patterns in those crystals repeat over time, too: the second photo is a repeat of the first, the third is a repeat of the second, and so on. All in all, normal crystals stay the same in space and in time – in other words, they repeat the same patterns in both dimensions.

Time crystals don't do that. Despite being arranged in a repeating pattern, time crystals' atoms have the potential to rotate in one direction or the other depending on whether a "pulsating force" is applied to them. This means that they don't stay the same over time, although the frequency of the changes does. Time crystals have been proposed as a new basis for super-accurate atomic clocks and gyroscopes, but they're still elusive little buggers. That's why researchers at Yale were so shocked when they examined a sample of monoammonium phosphate (MAP) – the easy-to-grow crystal material used in labs and kid's science kits – and found evidence of a DTC, or "discrete time crystal." According to physics professor Sean Barrett: "Our crystal measurements looked quite striking right off the bat. Our work suggests that the signature of a DTC could be found, in principle, by looking in a children's crystal growing kit."

How and why time crystals form is still a mystery, but hopefully this new discovery sheds some light on these weird little pieces of matter. In the meantime, we can't help but wonder what other scientific discoveries might be hiding in the Toys-R-Us clearance bins.
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