May 2 (UPI) -- Physicists at Yale University have discovered evidence of a time crystal inside a small, nondescript crystal.
Regular crystals repeat a geometric pattern in space. Time crystals repeat a temporal pattern. They change from moment to moment, and their spinning appears to "tick" when exposed to an electromagnetic pulse.
Each time crystal's ticking pattern follows a unique frequency. It remains in perfect time even when the electromagnetic pulse is imperfect.
Scientists' understanding of time crystals remains limited, specifically how they form, but the newest discovery could help their cause.
The monoammonium phosphate crystals, or MAP crystals, used in the study were grown for a separate set of experiments, but they were in the lab and available for research, so physicists at Yale decided to probe them in search of the signature for a discrete time crystal.
The researchers used nuclear magnetic resonance to look for the signature and it didn't take long to find it. The breakthrough, detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters, marks only the second time scientists have observed a time crystal signature.
Most scientists assumed time crystal signatures could only be found in crystals with complex internal structures featuring elements of disorder. But the MAP crystals are simple and easy to grow.
"Our crystal measurements looked quite striking right off the bat," Sean Barrett, Yale physics professor and lead researcher, said in a news release. "Our work suggests that the signature of a DTC could be found, in principle, by looking in a children's crystal growing kit."
Scientists realized a time crystal signature alone doesn't prove the crystal holds clues to the origin of the phenomena.
"This spurred us to try a time crystal 'echo,' which revealed the hidden coherence, or quantum order, within the system," said Yale graduate student Jared Rovny.
More research is needed to solve the puzzle presented by the new clues. Researchers believe an improved understanding of time crystals and their origins could spur the development and improvement of a variety of quantum computing technologies.
"It's too early to tell what the resolution will be for the current theory of discrete time crystals, but people will be working on this question for at least the next few years," Barrett said.