The subject of intense interest and speculation in physics and related scientific fields, a time crystal has been likened to a “perpetual motion machine,” as it moves back and forth between states such that its circular motion will last forever even without any additional energy supply or consumption.
In a new study published in the respected journal Nature, a research team from Google Research, Stanford University, University of Massachusetts, University of California, Columbia University, Princeton University, Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems and University of Oxford uses a quantum processor to observe a discrete time crystal, a new phase of matter which could be one of the most significant physical discoveries in decades.
A time crystal is considered successfully created if it repeats in time and, importantly, does so infinitely and without any additional energy input. A time crystal would thus seem impossible outside the realm of science fiction, as its fundamental nature defies the second law of thermodynamics.
The apparent unattainability of time crystals has not stopped frontier tech researchers from conducting extensive explorations on them. Now, with the help of Google’s Sycamore quantum processor, this team believes they have shown time crystals are possible.
The Sycamore’s ability to create highly complex quantum states enables the phase structures of matter to be effectively verified without the need to investigate the entire computational space. The researchers were thus able to probe over a million states of their time crystal in only milliseconds of runtime, and the robustness of ideal time-crystalline behaviour could be ascertained from a finite observation time.
“The big picture is that we are taking the devices that are meant to be the quantum computers of the future and thinking of them as complex quantum systems in their own right,” says the study’s co-lead author Matteo Ippoliti. “Instead of computation, we’re putting the computer to work as a new experimental platform to realize and detect new phases of matter.”
The paper’s findings are not restricted to the observation of a time crystal; they can also open up new research approaches for condensed matter physics, which studies the novel phenomena and properties brought about by the collective interactions of many objects in a system. Ippoliti believes this may be one of the most exciting applications for quantum computers, which could serve as platforms for fundamental quantum physics and reveal other new phenomenon.
Overall, this paper comprehensively describes how the Sycamore processor can be leveraged as a quantum system to observe oscillatory wave patterns and takes a critical leap in quantum physics from theory to the actual observation of a time crystal.
The paper Time-Crystalline Eigenstate Order on a Quantum Processor is on the Nature website.
Author: Hecate He | Editor: Michael Sarazen
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