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Proposed four dimensional crystal clock could theoretically outlast the universe itself

The problem with thinking about the improbability of a perpetual motion machine is that regardless of how clever you think you are, forever is forever, meaning even our own universe will one day, a long time from now, completely run out of energy and will die. This situation is known as the heat death of the universe, and at that point, nothing will be left. Except perhaps this clock…

By proposing a 4D “space-time crystal,” the engineers have designed a device that would operate at its lowest quantum energy state and exhibit a clock-like persistence that would theoretically exist even after the universe is exhausted of all its energy, the so-called heat death. Normally, crystals are comprised of atoms that are arranged in an orderly, repeating three-dimensional pattern. Earlier this year, however, MIT’s Nobel-prize winning physicist Frank Wilcze outlined the concept of a crystal that could extend into the fourth dimension, that of time. But while he mathematically proved that such a device could exist, he wasn’t exactly clear on how to build such a thing.

That’s where an international team of scientists led by researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory come in. Mechanical engineer Xiang Zhang and his team have proposed an experimental design of a space-time crystal based on two basic principles: An electric-field ion trap, and the Coulomb repulsion of particles that carry a similar electrical charge. Simply put, it’s a four-dimensional crystal that features a periodic structure in time as well as space.

Speaking through a release, Zhang describes how it works:

The electric field of the ion trap holds charged particles in place and Coulomb repulsion causes them to spontaneously form a spatial ring crystal. Under the application of a weak static magnetic field, this ring-shaped ion crystal will begin a rotation that will never stop. The persistent rotation of trapped ions produces temporal order, leading to the formation of a space-time crystal at the lowest quantum energy state.

Essentially, this 4D space-time crystal would consist of a physical object with regular periodic atoms that are moving in a regular, periodic pattern. They would move forever — and with no external input. To create a clock out of such a device, the developers would have to create a circular arrangement of regularly ordered atoms that would orientate to the same location at fixed intervals. The researchers are suggesting this could work by trapping a cloud of beryllium ions working inside a magnetic field, thus forcing them into a circular pattern.


So in order for something like this to be built, or even for the possibility that we could build anything that could exist with one of its components anchored in a dimension of time, we first have to figure out what exactly time is made of. We split it into seconds and milliseconds and nanoseconds, but that’s an arbitrary division, just like a “foot” or a “yard” is an arbitrary division of two-dimensional space, when the matter that makes up that space is made of molecules, made of atoms, made of subatomic particles, made of… other stuff. We have no such real notion right now of such fundamental particles (or whatever) of time. Once we have that figured out, we might be able to figure out time travel and building devices out of time. That would be cool— build a box out of time itself, just as scientists now can place individual atoms on a plane to spell out their initials.


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  13. rcginger reblogged this from iheartchaos and added:
    As gardens & villa say “Space…Time”
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  20. hellomynameispotatoes reblogged this from juxi and added:
    Because the thing that makes the most sense to do is to build a clock out of the very fabric of spacetime.
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