Google's Time Crystal Venture Using Quantum Computers

Jan 8, 2022
5 min read

Imagine sitting inside a cafe, waiting for your order. As you proceed to enjoy your coffee, you suddenly notice that the milk and cream that you asked for, aren't mixing. The cream just sits on top. You might stare at it in wonder, thinking what was happening. Some of you may even begin to process this fact as a contradiction to the second law of thermodynamics - the inevitable tendency of matter towards achieving thermal equilibrium.

Something similar has been claimed by scientists at Google as they claim to have discovered a 'time crystal', something that could be a breakthrough in the realm of quantum computing. In this article, you'll get to know about the concept of a time crystal in quantum computing and what exactly the Google scientists are claiming.

What Do Scientists at Google Claim to Have Discovered?

As per sources at ZDNet.com, Google scientists claim to have utilized a quantum processor for a beneficial scientific application: seeing a real-time crystal. This news was published in Google's latest pre-publication research paper, which is yet to be peer reviewed.

Google researchers claim to have demonstrated a real "time crystal" using Google's quantum computer in conjunction with scientists from Stanford, Princeton, and other universities. In addition, earlier in July 2021, a different scientific group claimed to have produced a time crystal in a diamond. First, let us get a clear picture of quantum computing and understand what a 'time crystal' is.

A Brief Description of Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is the study of using quantum physics events to create new computational methods. 'Qubits' are the building blocks of quantum computing. Unlike a regular computer bit, a qubit can be either 0 or 1, or a superposition of both 0 and 1. Quantum properties such as superposition and entanglement are utilized to perform quantum computation.

Quantum computers can be really beneficial whenever we need to discover anything in a vast amount of data. Most scientists describe the uses of quantum computing as "finding a needle in a haystack", whether it's the correct mobile number or something else. Another example would be finding two equal integers in a vast quantity of data.

What is a Time Crystal?

Now that we have a general understanding of quantum computing, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of time crystals. What does this strangely sci-fi-sounding term mean? A time crystal is a quantum arrangement of particles in condensed matter physics whose lowest-energy state is one where the elements or particles are in repeated motion.

Since the system is already in its quantum ground state, it cannot lose energy to the environment and come to a halt. As a result, the motion of the particles does not reflect kinetic energy in the same way that ordinary motion does. Instead, it possesses "motion without energy."  

The person who first suggested the concept of time crystals is Frank Wilczek in 2012. He proposed that time crystals are a time-based counterpart to ordinary crystals, whose atoms are organized regularly in space. Several groups of scientists have proven the existence of matter with a stable periodic development in systems that are pushed on a regular basis.

In time, however, it was proved that this theory proposed by Wilczek does not hold true in a practical environment. Wilczek imagined a diamond-like multi-part entity in equilibrium. This item, however, contradicts time-translation symmetry: It moves in a regular pattern, returning to its original state at regular intervals. Because the system is in its ultra-stable equilibrium condition, a Wilczekian time crystal needed no input and can run endlessly. In 2014, this theory was proved to be a failure.

Google's Time Crystal Venture Using Quantum Computing

Time crystals, as one might expect, are quite rare in nature. But according to ZDNet.com, Google's experts now claim that their findings provide a "scalable strategy" to studying time crystals on existing quantum computers. Time crystals are a new "phase of matter," as experts describe it. The concept of time crystals has been hypothesized for years as a new form that may possibly join the list of solids, liquids, gases, crystals, and other states of matter.

Time crystals are quite fascinating when you have a basic knowledge of physics. This is the second law of thermodynamics, which explains that systems naturally seek to remain in a condition known as "maximum entropy."

What Do Scientists Have to Say About Google's Time Crystal Discovery?

Roderich Moessner, the director of the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden, Germany, stated, "The result is amazing: You completely evade the second rule of thermodynamics." Moessner is also a co-author of the Google article. The second law of thermodynamics elucidates the law of chaos, which states that disorder will constantly increase.

Time crystals are also the first items to defy the concept of "time-translation symmetry," which states that a steady object should remain the same throughout eternity. A time crystal is both steady and dynamic, with exceptional moments occurring at regular intervals.

"This is simply this entirely new and fascinating region that we're working in right now," said Vedika Khemani. Vedika is a Stanford-based condensed matter physicist. She founded the unique phase as a graduate student and co-authored the new study with the team of Google scientists.

"There are good reasons to believe that none of those experimental studies succeeded completely, and a quantum computer like [Google's] would be particularly well-positioned to perform much better than those earlier experiments," said John Chalker. John is also a condensed matter physicist at the University of Oxford. However, he wasn't involved in the new research. "The focus shifted from examining what nature provides us to imagining novel kinds of stuff that quantum mechanics allows," Chalker added.

How Will Time Crystals Possibly Benefit Google's Quantum Computing Field?

According to experts, time crystals do not reach thermal equilibrium at any point in time. Rather than progressively devolving into chaos, they become trapped in two high-energy configurations that they alternate between - and this back-and-forth process can carry on indefinitely. As the system is disturbed, it forgets what its initial configuration was and becomes increasingly random and chaotic.

According to ZDNet.com, Google's quantum processor, Sycamore, is well-known for its accomplishments and is now seeking a practical use for quantum computing. In the opinion of Von Keyserlingk, a quantum processor is a great instrument for replicating a quantum mechanical system by definition.

There are, of course, certain limitations to time crystals. Google's processor, like other quantum computers, suffers from decoherence. This may end up causing the quantum states of the qubits to deteriorate. There's also the fact that time crystals are exceedingly uncommon in nature and don't appear out of nowhere.

Final Thoughts

The revelation that time crystals can only break discrete time-translation symmetry in the case of time sheds fresh light on the difference between time and space. These discussions will continue, fueled by the prospect of quantum computer exploration. Condensed matter physicists used to be concerned with the natural world's components. If Google's quantum computer can be recreated, time crystals will not only be real, but they may also be put to practical use in the actual world.