To most people, crystals mean diamond bling, semiprecious gems or perhaps the jagged amethyst or quartz crystals beloved by collectors.

To Norman Yao, these inert crystals are the tip of the iceberg.

If crystals have an atomic structure that repeats in space, like the carbon lattice of a diamond, why can’t crystals also have a structure that repeats in time? That is, a time crystal?

In a paper published online earlier this month in the journal Physical Review Letters, the UC Berkeley assistant professor of physics describes exactly how to make and measure the properties of such a crystal, and even predicts what the various phases surrounding the time crystal should be — akin to the liquid and gas phases of ice.

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