Google may have achieved a scientific breakthrough: Time crystals

Eureka! The world's first quantum computer crystal may have been created by a research team that included dozens of scientists who worked in collaboration with Googles quantum computing labs. This is the news that makes me want a happy dance. Scientists may have created a new type of matter. I will try to explain the meaning of this discovery and why it is my opinion that it is the greatest scientific breakthrough of our time. To be clear, however, I must first make two points: Time crystals are difficult concepts to grasp and even more difficult to explain. Google might have created time crystals. This research is still in pre-print and has not yet been peer-reviewed. We can't confirm that the work is legitimate until the rest of scientific community reviews it and replicates it. What is a time crystal? It's a big screw you to Sir Isaac Newton, in colloquial terms. Time crystals represent a new phase in matter. Let's imagine a cube made of ice, just for simplicity. You can put a cube ice in a glass of water to introduce two distinct entities, the ice cubes and the liquid water. They will react at two different temperatures. Everybody knows that water gets colder. That's why we put ice in the container. Over time, however, the ice will warm up and become water. You will eventually have water at room temperature. This is what we call thermal equilibrium. Newton's first law is well-known to most people. It states that an object at rest tends not to move and an object in motion tends not to. This law of physics has an important side effect: it makes it impossible to create a perpetual motion machine. Classical physics says that the universe moves towards entropy. This means that if you take an ice cube, and place it in a glass of room temperature water, all external forces will be blocked. The water will melt the ice cube. If there are no processes, the entropy (the tendency towards change) of any system will remain constant. It will increase if there is. Entropy is constantly increasing because of the stars that explode, black holes sucking and people setting things on fire. Except when it is time crystals. Time crystals don't care what Newton or anyone else thinks. They are lawbreakers and heart-takers. They theoretically can maintain entropy even if they are used in a process. What does that mean? Consider a crystal you are familiar with, like a snowflake. Each snowflake is beautiful, but they are also stunning formations that almost break the laws. Crystalline structures are formed in the physical world when atoms in them desire to exist at certain points. When talking about atoms, the word "want" is really strange. I don't mean they are sentient. However, it is difficult to describe their tendency towards crystal structures in abstracts like why. A time crystal is a new phase in matter. It's like a snowflake, which cycles back and forth between two configurations at a time. It can be a seven-pointed or ten-pointed lattice at the same time, or something else. It is amazing that time crystals don't lose energy or use energy when they switch between different configurations. They can withstand energy processes and not succumb to entropy. They are called time crystals because they can eat their cake and have their cake. They can go to the point where they have eaten all of the cake and then return to the beginning. This can happen for ever and ever. They can do it in isolation, which is the most important thing. This means that they can eat the cake, then make it appear again and again without any fuel or energy. Who cares? What does this all mean for me? Everyone should care. Time crystals may be the magic ingredient for quantum computing, as I wrote in 2018. Quantum computing systems will be required to power nearly every futuristic tech that humans can think of, including warp drives, teleportation, and artificial food synthesizers. Quantum computers are capable of solving very difficult problems. They are fragile. It is difficult to make them, to maintain them, to get them to do any task, and to interpret their results. Decoherence is a concept that works in a similar way to entropy. Qubits are quantum bits that make up the quantum world. They share a quirky feature of quantum mechanics which makes them behave differently when left alone than when they're observed. This makes it difficult to measure qubit states directly (read the output of the computers) Time crystals need to be coherent. They could be placed inside a quantum computer and used to perform computer processes. This would serve an important function: quantum coherence. So Google solved quantum computing? No. No, no, no, no no. Dont get me wrong. This is just baby steps. This is infant research. Antony van Leeuwenhoek is the first to use a microscope under magnification to examine a droplet of water. Googles has, in theory, proved that humans can make time crystals. The researchers said it best: These results provide a scaleable approach to studying non-equilibrium states of matter using current quantum processors. They believe that they have proven the concept. Now it is time to see what else can be done. Hence, why is this so thrilling? Time crystals were always theoretical. They have been theoretical since 2012, when they were first hypothesized. Google could speed up quantum computing breakthroughs if it actually creates time-crystals. We could be able to create a working warp drive within our lifetimes, even though it seems impossible and unrealistic. Imagine going to Mars, or to the edge of the solar system, returning home in time to catch the evening news. And, even on the conservative end with more realistic expectations, its not hard to imagine quantum computing-based chemical and drug discovery leading to universally-effective cancer treatments. This could be the eureka moment we've been waiting for. Peer-review is exciting. You can find more information in Google's paper. This piece by Natalie Wolchover on Quanta Magazine is a deep dive into the scientific details of the research done in the lab.


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