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In Photos: Bizarre New Time Crystals Created

Time crystals

time crystal illustration

(Image credit: E. Edwards/JQI)

Scientists have recently succeeded in creating a mysterious state of matter known as a time crystal, which seems to suspend the laws of thermodynamics. Two separate experiments demonstrated this new form of matter. [Read more about the time crystals]

What is a time crystal

time crystal explanation

(Image credit: E.Edwards/JQI)

Here, an explanation for the basic concept of a time crystal. Time crystals would suspend the laws of thermodynamics because, while in this state, matter does not heat up or generate entropy, or increasing disorder.

Creating on in the lab

time crystal setup

(Image credit: E.Edwards/JQI)

In one experiment, researchers used trapped ions of ytterbium, then manipulated their spins using laser pulses. These laser pulses set the matter oscillating at a frequency different from the initial laser pulses. The material did not heat up or generate entropy, despite being at room temperature and having high energy.

Glowing diamond

time crystal

(Image credit: Georg Kucsko)

In a separate experiment, scientists used a piece of diamond with 1 million nitrogency vacancy color centers, or defects where a nitrogen atom replaces a carbon atom in the lattice. By periodically exciting them with microwave radiation, the team was also able to create a time crystal from the spins of all of the nitrogen vacancy color centers.

Black diamond

black time crystal

(Image credit: George Kucsko)

Here, another view of the experimental setup with the laser off. The diamond appears black because the nitrogen vacancy color centers add color to the diamond, and it is so full of them that it appears black.

Exotic state of matter


(Image credit: Georg Kucsko)

Here, another view of the second experimental setup. The second experiment did generate heat, albeit very slowly, meaning that the time crystal state would eventually be lost. [Read more about the time crystals]

Tia Ghose
Tia has interned at Science News,, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.