Scientists Created a New form of Matter – Superionic Water Ice

Scientists Created a New form of Matter – Superionic Water Ice


Non-equilibrium Matter is here.

Assumptions and Predictions are pretty common in Theoretical Physics. Every research begins with ‘Suppose’ and ends with a hypothetical theory that is either accepted or rejected on the basis of further exploration. Some of these experiments take years and even decades before a final conclusion is drawn about them. Contrary to that, some of these predictions turn into facts pretty quickly.

An interesting example of that type is ‘Time Crystals’. It is the latest form of matter discovered by scientists. The first prediction about them came out in 2012. A theory about them was presented which was disproved. The research was repeated and a few adjustments were made. The researchers working on it were lucky second time around as they managed to get these crystals.

Another name that is commonly used for them is ‘Superionic Water Ice’. It also explains the formation of this form of matter. Water molecules were compressed between two diamonds. This compression increased the pressure to about a million times that is present on our Earth. Similarly, the temperature jumped to thousands of degrees. It resulted in a fluid of Hydrogen ions flowing through oxygen lattice. This composition of water is not present on the surface of Earth but it can be found on other planets like Uranus and Neptune as they are icy planets.

Crystals usually have a fixed pattern of atoms’ arrangement that gives them their characteristic shape. From Table Salt or Sugar to Diamond, all the crystals follow this basic property and time crystals are not different. The only difference is that the repetition of atoms is also in time’s domain due to which it is believed that they can have an immense part to play in revolutionary advancements like Quantum computing. They can oscillate without the influence of any external energy. The in-depth report of how they can be made and measured has been submitted recently by two teams of researchers.

All this began in 2012 when Frank Wilczek, who is a Nobel Prize Winner, from MIT, took a crucial step of transferring symmetry breaking. The best way to explain this concept is by considering water in its liquid state. Molecules are free to move and it seems same from any side hence, there is a lot of symmetry there. On the freezing, the attractive forces become stronger and a regular shape is formed.

As it looks different from multiple angles, regularity is lost to an extent. Wilczek provided this fascinating idea that this equilibrium could also be broken in time. It provided a completely different aspect to our knowledge of the matter. Till then, we knew only those forms of it that had an equilibrium. That was the origin of the 1st non-equilibrium matter which is a reality today. The lead researcher, Norman Yao said,

“This is a new phase of matter, period, but it is also really cool because it is one of the first examples of non-equilibrium matter. For the last half-century, we have been exploring equilibrium matter, like metals and insulators. We are just now starting to explore a whole new landscape of non-equilibrium matter.”

Traditionally, when a system has ‘zero-point energy’, any movement among its particles is not possible. Superionic Water Ice nullified this idea as these crystals can oscillate even in their ground state just like a jelly jiggles again and again when an external force is applied. The major difference here is that in case of time crystals no energy is needed. Although, we know what they are, creating these crystals is a completely different thing.

The experiments conducted by Yao’s teams have provided a detailed description of the procedure of making and measuring these crystals. They have also found out the forms of superionic water ice that are equivalent to solid, liquid and gaseous states. About the paper published in ‘Physical Review Letters,’ Yao said,

“The bridge between the theoretical idea and the experimental implementation.”

Using the published details, two teams have managed to create their time crystals. One of them belongs to University of Maryland while the other one is from Harvard.

The ability of these crystals to break the symmetry will be extremely useful in making Chrono-metamaterials. They are used in quantum computing which uses atoms to store and process data. This discovery has made Physics as lively as ever and scientists are very keen to prove their huge theories.

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