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Crystals may be possible in time as well as space

Theory proposes objects in their lowest energy state can loop in the fourth dimension forever

What sounds like the title of a bad fantasy movie — time crystals — could be the next big thing in theoretical physics.

In two new papers, Nobel Prize–winning physicist Frank Wilczek lays out the mathematics of how an object moving in its lowest energy state could experience a sort of structure in time. Such a “time crystal” would be the temporal equivalent of an everyday crystal, in which atoms occupy positions that repeat periodically in space.

The work, done partly with physicist Alfred Shapere of the University of Kentucky, appeared February 12 on arXiv.org.

“We don’t know whether such things do exist in nature, but the surprise is that they can exist,” says Maulik Parikh, a physicist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

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