Newly found “time crystals” appear to challenge a fundamental law of nature: the ban against perpetual motion. Physicists in Finland are the latest scientists to construct “time crystals.”

Quantum mechanics (the way atoms and their particles interact) is the only way to detect the effect, and any attempt to extract work from such a system will result in its demise. While this may seem counterintuitive, research has shown that the quantum world, which is the most fundamental of all dimensions, has a profound effect on everything else.

They’re useless and don’t resemble natural crystals in any way. They don’t appear to be much at all, in fact. Instead of describing their regular shapes in physical space, like ice, quartz, or diamond, the name “time crystal” – one that any marketing executive would be proud of — represents their regular shifts in quantum states across time.

Time crystals may one day be used to store information in quantum computers, according to some researchers. As a Lancaster University physicist Samuli Autti explains, the immediate purpose of this research is to learn more about quantum mechanics.

In the same way that transistors rely on quantum mechanical processes, these new quantum artifacts may prove valuable in the future. In the future, Autti speculated, “time crystals may power some quantum functions in your smartphone.”

As the study’s lead author, Autti documented the formation of two distinct time crystals within a helium sample, as well as the magnetic interactions between them as their shape altered. The findings were published in Nature Communications last month.

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Using lasers and other equipment, he and his colleagues at Helsinki’s Aalto University’s Low Temperature Laboratory cooled helium gas to one-tenth of a degree above absolute zero (around minus 459.67 degrees Fahrenheit).

Helium nuclei that had formed a “crystal” were detected oscillating between two low-energy states using radio waves, a scientific equivalent of “gazing sideways” at the helium sample, so as not to disturb its fragile quantum states.

At such low temperatures, matter is dominated by quantum mechanical phenomena because it lacks the energy to behave normally. Helium, for example, is a “superfluid” because it has no “thickness” or “viscosity” when it’s below minus 452.2 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using time crystals as a tool for quantum physics research might lead to a lot of confusion. It is possible for a particle to be in more than one place at once, or to produce a “qubit” — the quantum analog of a single digital information “bit,” but which can be two different values at the same time — at the quantum level. It is also possible for quantum particles to entangle and teleport. It’s still a mystery to physicists.

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