Two teams of scientists have successfully created “time crystals,” a state of matter first proposed in 2012. One team used the element ytterbium to created its crystals; another used diamond packed with nitrogen impurities. Both teams were able to show how the atoms in their crystals followed a pattern that repeated in time, rather than in space.
Think about it this way: in the states of matter we’re familiar with, atoms line up in certain, predictable ways that repeat over and over again across space. Time crystals do the same thing, but their atoms line up in certain, predictable ways that repeat over and over again across time.
The teams created the time crystals by zapping their elements with energy (an electrical field in one case, a microwave field in the other). The ions in the crystals started regularly flipping back and forth. But the rhythm of the movement didn’t match the rhythm of the energy being added to the system. The crystals had a preferred rhythm that they stuck to.
On a practical level, time crystals could contribute to the advance of quantum computing. On a “oh-holy-wow” level, this is, as the physicists who did the research say, “a new phase of matter.”