Exploiting a physics loophole, it’s not perpetual motion, but it’s pretty damn close

// September 25th, 2012 // Futuristic Technology


Diagram of 4D Crystal theoryIn this week’s freaky physics news, scientists at Department of Energy’s Berkeley Laboratory have proposed a design for a timing crystal that runs, literally, forever – even theoretically outlasting the universe itself. The researchers describe it as “a 4D crystal that has periodic structures in both space and time”. They are quick to point out however, that since there is no energy output (because it is functioning at the “lowest quantum energy state”), they have not broken any perpetual motion laws. Yeah, right. This is still pretty damn cool.

To create this device, they propose trapping particles of the same charge in space using an electrical field (based on the electric-field ion trap principle). This would trap and hold the charged particles in place. Heat would then be removed from the molecular system until it reaches its lowest possible energy state. At their lowest possible energy state, where the particles stop moving, their “Coulomb repulsion” (a fundamental principle of electrostatics that describes the attraction or repulsion between two charged particles), naturally forces them into a ring-like configuration. To get the ring spinning, the ions can be given a little nudge with a weak magnetic field (the rotation in this case gives them the 4th time dimension, hence “4D crystals”). This gets them rotating and since they lose no energy to the outside world, the rotation should continue forever even, according to research leader and mechanical engineer, Xiang Zhang, after the “heat death” of the universe (the point where the universe has exhausted all of its energy).

Xiang Zhang explains in geek lingo:

“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.”

To create a computer or clock out of such a device, researchers would have to create a circular arrangement of regularly ordered atoms that would orientate to the same location at fixed intervals. The researchers propose a cloud of beryllium ions working inside an electromagnetic field that forces them into a circular pattern. Viola, we have a TARDIS.

Researchers believe they can create just such a device within the next few years.  You can view the complete research paper here.

Sources: PopSci, UC Berkeley
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