Scientists are still grappling with the ins and outs of exotic materials known as time crystals. Structures that are forever bustling. Now the new diversity may help deepen our understanding of the puzzling state of matter.
Just like ordinary crystals are atoms and molecules that repeat over an area of space, time crystals are collections of particles that intertwine in patterns over a period of time in ways that at first seem to defy science.
Theorized in 2012 before it was first observed in the lab just four years later, researchers have been busy fixing the structures to explore deeper foundations of particle physics and uncover potential applications.
In this latest study, a new type of “photonic” time crystal has been created. Operating at microwave frequencies, it is capable of modulating and amplifying electromagnetic waves, promising future applications in wireless communication systems, laser development, and electronic circuits.
In a photonic time crystal, photons are arranged in a pattern that repeats over time. He says Lead author Xuchen Wang, a nanoengineer from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany.
“This means that the photons in the crystal are simultaneous and coherent, which can lead to constructive interference and amplification of light.”
In addition, the research team found that electromagnetic waves traveling along surfaces can be amplified as well as waves from the surrounding environment.
At the center of the research is a two-dimensional approach based on ultra-thin sheets of synthetic material known as surfaces. Previously, research into photonic time crystals was done with massive 3D materials: making and studying these materials is very difficult for scientists, but switching to 2D means a faster and easier way to conduct experiments—and to discover how these crystals can be applied in real-world settings.
Although they are simpler than full 3D structures, they share some important properties with photonic time crystals and can simulate their behavior — including the way they interact with light. It is the first time that photon time crystals have been shown to amplify light in this particular way and to such a large extent.
“We found that reducing the dimensions from a 3D to a 2D structure made the implementation significantly easier, making it possible to achieve photonic time crystals in practice,” he said. He says Wang.
While real-world applications are still some way off, the approach of using 2D metasurfaces as a method for producing and examining photon time crystals will make this type of research much more meaningful in the future.
The discovery of amplification of electromagnetic waves along surfaces, for example, could eventually help improve integrated circuits found everywhere from phones to cars: communication within such circuits is likely to be faster and smoother.
Then there are wireless connections that can suffer from signal dwindling over distance (which is why you may not be able to get Wi-Fi in the upper part of your house). Coating surfaces with 2D photonic time crystals promises to improve this situation.
“When a surface wave propagates, it suffers physical losses, and the signal strength decreases,” He says Physicist Viktor Asdashi of Aalto University in Finland.
“With the integration of two-dimensional optical time crystals into the system, the surface wave can be amplified, improving communication efficiency.”
Research published in Science advances.
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