Google has created a new state of matter using their quantum computer, which brings interesting implications to the development of new technologies.
On the night of July 29th, 2021, Google, in association with Princeton and Stanford physicists (among many others) claimed to have been able to demonstrate a time crystal using their quantum computer: Sycamore. However, there are a few things we need to understand in order to comprehend the uses and implications of such a discovery.
In classical mechanics, objects abide by two (relevant to this topic) laws: Newton’s first law of motion and the second law of thermodynamics. If you’ve been paying attention to your science classes, you should be pretty familiar with the first, but just in case, here it is:
“An object will remain at rest or keep traveling in a constant velocity unless it is influenced by an external force”
Pretty simple right? An object won’t change its initial state unless it is affected by a net force. Things get tricky, nonetheless, when we introduce the second law of thermodynamics: a law that establishes entropy as a property of a thermodynamic system. In a nutshell, entropy is the tendency for things to assume a state of disorder, and determines the direction of spontaneous processes (whether they are irreversible or impossible) while obeying the principle of conservation of energy. Quite a mouthful, right? If you’re still with me, here is where things get interesting.
This supposed time crystal is able to change states cyclically without using up any energy, which is in direct violation of both of the aforementioned laws. This calls for a review in the scientific definition for a “phase”, or state of matter. In water or ice, particles are in a state of thermal equilibrium, whereas in a time crystal, they are not.
Theory itself came much before the object’s physical creation. It was originally theorized by Nobel-prize winning physicist Frank Wilczek in 2012, but I will spare you the explanation of the logic behind it (it’s too complicated for me too). Ever since, there has been a race between corporations who sought to create the crystal first.
But why the hassle? Why invest millions, even billions of dollars for such a seemingly impractical tool? Although the creation and observation of time crystals is a nice flex on Google’s part, it shows how quantum computers and processors could have new practical applications. Other than that, Google hasn’t shown any signs of business plans for the crystal. For physics itself, this news is very exciting; as much as we try to imagine time as a physical 4th dimension (as suggested by Einstein), it is always counterintuitive to do so. However, the creation of a time crystal gives us new perspectives, and as one of the leading scientists Microsoft’s rival project says: “this is the first case that I know of where all of a sudden time is just one of the gang.”
Further reading on this topic and sources