Thursday, April 6, 2017

University of Maryland researchers develop world's first time crystals

Story Highlights:

  • The development of the time crystal can now help perform quantum informative tasks.
  • Some graduate students spent 30-40 hours a week in the lab whereas some of the older students spent 60-70 hours a week in the lab.
  • Due to the longevity of the experiment and expensive equipment, the experiment costs upward of one million dollars.

Led by Chris Monroe, a group of researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) at the University of Maryland developed the world's first time crystal, a breakthrough in quantum physics.

The idea of a time crystal was first introduced in 2012 by MIT professor Frank Wilzchek.  In 2016, Norman Yao of University of California, Berkeley and his team put together the theory and proposal on how to develop a time crystal in a lab.

Antonis Kypriandis, a third-year graduate student at UMD, said that his team was able to use the proposal from the team at Berkeley as a blueprint to develop the time crystal in their lab.

"We would work on Skype calls with Berkeley, but there was never a time the whole group from both sides were present during these calls," said Kypriandis.  "Sometimes we had a lot of questions for the theorists and they made speculations on our work." 

Since the JQI specializes with trapping ions as a part of their quantum research, the experiment only took them a couple of months to complete, Kypriandis said.

The group used numerous lenses and cubes to split atoms multiple times and then used one main laser to spin the trapped ions in a specific pattern.  The lab equipment and environment was crucial in making sure the ions did not melt, Kypriandis said.

Graphic courtesy of the JQI website

When the ions were perturbed, meaning the ions were interfered from continuing on their usual path, there wasn't a change in their oscillation frequency which Kypriandis said meant the time crystal displayed its rigidity.

Maryland was not the only university to create a time crystal, as a team of researchers at Harvard University also successfully completed the experiment but by using a different method.

"I spent a lot of my time in data collecting and troubleshooting in the lab since I was not able to contribute much to the theory side," Kyrpiandis said.

Although Kypriandis admitted at the moment their creation does not have much commercial value, their published work in the journal Nature says the findings from this experiment can now be used for "various quantum information tasks, such as implementing a robust quantum memory."