Protein crystals

3D crystals, such as these protein crystals, are well known – but what about a 4D crystal?

Image: CSIRO

A clock that lasts forever, without batteries or winding up, sounds like something from science fiction. Right now, that’s the case. But a research team led by scientists in the USA thinks it might actually to be possible to make such a device.

The team suggests making a ‘space-time crystal’. Most crystals are solids where atoms or ions have an ordered or ‘periodic’ pattern in three dimensions. A space-time crystal is also periodic in the fourth dimension, time.

The proposed space-time crystal uses an ionic trap at extremely low temperatures to hold charged particles in a circular arrangement, creating a 3D crystal. A magnetic field would then cause the particles to rotate periodically, adding the fourth dimension to the crystal.

The system would theoretically not require any further energy to be added, meaning it could be used as a ‘perpetual clock’, as well as in other applications in quantum physics.

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