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‘Time crystal’ created in lab

Flipped ions return to original positions periodically to demonstrate new form of symmetry breaking

7:00am, October 26, 2016
crystal structure

TIME CRYSTAL  Crystals can form in time as well as in space, scientists have confirmed. Scientists hit a chain of ions with lasers to create the time crystal, which undergoes symmetry breaking in time, just as a normal crystal (shown above) breaks the symmetry of space.

It may sound like science fiction, but it’s not: Scientists have created the first time crystal, using a chain of ions. Just as a standard crystal repeats in a regular spatial pattern, a time crystal repeats in time, returning to a similar configuration at regular intervals.

“This is a remarkable experiment,” says physicist Chetan Nayak of Microsoft Station Q at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “There is a ‘wow factor.’”

Scientists at the University of Maryland and the University of California, Berkeley created a chain of 10 ytterbium ions. These ions behave like particles with spin, a sort of quantum mechanical version of angular momentum, which can point either up or down. Using a laser, the physicists flipped the spins in a chain of ions halfway around, from up to down, and allowed the ions to interact so that the spin of each ion would influence the others. The researchers repeated this sequence at regular

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