OK, WTF Is a Time Crystal?

Physicists have made a new phase of matter called a time crystal—but what does that even mean?
February 26, 2017, 9:00pm

Last month, a team of physicists from UC Berkeley said they'd created a blueprint for a new phase of matter called a time crystal. Their paper, in  Physical Review Letters, turned what was once a pretty far out speculation into a practical recipe for cooking up a time crystal in a laboratory.

Indeed, since the preprint paper was published online last year, researchers at the University of Maryland and Harvard University have followed the UC Berkeley recipe and created time crystals of their own using two different mediums: lasers and trapped ions.

A time crystal isn't something you can hold in your hands, and it isn't something you can grow in your kitchen with some table salt and a glass of water. For a long time, the time crystal concept existed only on paper as a mathematical oddity. It's only now that time crystals have been realized in a lab in (quantum) physical form.

Time crystals are an insanely complicated subject and not particularly relevant to 99 percent of the population (at least for now), which is probably why you haven't heard much about them, despite the magnitude of this scientific breakthrough. Indeed, after spending a few hours discussing the matter with a handful of physicists who are on the front line of time-crystallography, I was still only able to grasp the subject at a relatively rudimentary level. Yet thanks to these physicists' near infinite patience and input, I was able to distill the essence of a time crystal into the simplest, most accurate explanation I could muster, and it's still pretty complicated.

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