Time Crystals: recently-discovered quantum structure – but many of its uses are not ‘open for discussion’
- Time crystals, first observed last year, called the first ‘non-equilibrium matter’
- DARPA launched program called Driven and Nonequilibrium Quantum Systems
- In the program, researchers will work to develop and demonstrate the concepts
- They could be used for sensors or atomic clocks to measure gravitational waves
- But, DARPA officials say many of the applications are ‘not open for discussion’
Last year, scientists revealed the discovery of an astounding new form of matter they claimed breaks the symmetry of time.
In time crystals, the atoms follow a repeating pattern in time rather than space, and physicists have dubbed the material one of the first examples of non-equilibrium matter.
But, what exactly what time crystals could be used for has remained somewhat unclear.
The Defense Department’s research branch has now launched a new initiative to study time crystals and their potential applications, in a program called Driven and Nonequilibrium Quantum Systems (DRINQS).
With the new program from DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, teams of ‘theoreticians and experimentalists’ will work to drive quantum systems consisting of a large number of particles.
Time crystals can’t settle down to a motionless equilibrium, UC Berkeley researcher Norman Yao explained when the discovery was revealed last year.
Just like Jell-O jiggles when it is tapped, the structure of time crystals repeats in time with periodic ‘kicks.’
In the new program, the teams will have to develop protocols for stabilizing coherence in such a system, and demonstrate proof-of-principle concepts that achieve a minimum of 10-fold improvement over the standard limits.
This could even be increased to 100-fold.
‘A simple illustration of the concept of driving something out of equilibrium to increase its stability is the well-known trick of making an inverted broom stand up on the palm of your hand or on one of your fingertips,’ said Ale Lukaszew, DARPA program manager.
‘If you hold your hand still, the broom is unstable and will fall over quickly. But if you drive the broom out of equilibrium by moving your hand around periodically, you can make the broom very stable, so it remains upright indefinitely.’
Particles in a quantum state are very sensitive to their environment.
With the slightest disturbance, they can lose their predictable and measurable properties, DARPA explains.
But, figuring out how to achieve quantum coherence could pave the way for ultra-precise technology, from quantum computers and sensors to atomic clocks.
As of now, atomic clocks for ultra-precise timing must be kept in special laboratory environments isolated from potential thermal, electromagnetic, and other disturbances.
‘If we can introduce a periodic drive to enable particles to be packaged close together in small spaces at room temperature, while still retaining quantum coherence, we may be able to reproduce the performance of the best sensors, such as atomic clocks and magnetometers, in small and robust devices for military use,’ Lukaszew said.
There could be a slew of other potential military uses for time crystals – but, officials can’t say what they are.
‘There might be applications related to measuring things with exquisite sensitivity in time and magnetic field domains,’ Lukaszew told Gizmodo.
‘Not a lot of these applications are open for discussion.’
WHAT ARE TIME CRYSTALS?
While the atoms that make up crystals such as ice or diamond are arranged in a repeating pattern through space, the pattern behind time crystals repeats in time.
These strange crystals are made up of interacting atoms that never ‘settle down’ to thermal equilibrium.
Their structure repeats in time as they are ‘kicked’ periodically, similar to the way Jell-O jiggles when it is tapped.
‘Wouldn’t it be super weird if you jiggled the Jell-O and found that somehow it responded at a different period?’ said Berkeley physicist Norman Yao.
‘But that is the essence of the time crystal.
‘You have some periodic driver that has a period ‘T,’ but the system somehow synchronizes so that you observe the system oscillating with a period that is larger than ‘T.’’
But, the researchers explain, repetition alone isn’t enough.
To hold it all together and make it ‘rigid,’ the crystal must have stable enough rhythm.
Atomic clocks, on the other hand, could have a number of non-classified applications, as a way of measuring time in manner that’s far more precise.
The technology could, for one, be used to measure gravitational fields, which ‘could be very useful in tunnel and cave detection,’ Lukaszew said.
‘In principle, existing atomic-clocks can keep time precisely enough to measure gravitational field differences over the distance of a few feet, but it could take weeks to process the measurement.
‘If we can engineer a system that doesn’t lose its coherence as fast and can be re-tuned very quickly, we could potentially make those same measurements in half an hour.’
This article (DARPA launches research program to study time crystals) was originally published on Daily Mail and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.