Observation of a prethermal discrete time crystal

Prethermal time crystal

Characterizing and understanding different phases of matter in equilibrium is usually associated with the process of thermalization, where the system equilibrates. Recent efforts probing nonequilibrium systems have revealed that periodic driving of the system can suppress the natural tendency for equilibration yet still form new, nonequilibrium phases. Kyprianidis et al. used a quantum simulator composed of 25 trapped ion qubits and spins to observe such a nonequilibrium phase of matter: the disorder-free prethermal discrete time crystal. The flexibility and tunability of their quantum simulator provide a powerful platform with which to study the exotic phases of matter.

Science, abg8102, this issue p. 1192


Extending the framework of statistical physics to the nonequilibrium setting has led to the discovery of previously unidentified phases of matter, often catalyzed by periodic driving. However, preventing the runaway heating that is associated with driving a strongly interacting quantum system remains a challenge in the investigation of these newly discovered phases. In this work, we utilize a trapped-ion quantum simulator to observe the signatures of a nonequilibrium driven phase without disorder—the prethermal discrete time crystal. Here, the heating problem is circumvented not by disorder-induced many-body localization, but rather by high-frequency driving, which leads to an expansive time window where nonequilibrium phases can emerge. Floquet prethermalization is thus presented as a general strategy for creating, stabilizing, and studying intrinsically out-of-equilibrium phases of matter.

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