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Surprising Science

Crystal Computer Can Survive the Death of the Universe

MIT theoretical physicists are working to carry the structure of crystals, such as table salt, into the fourth dimension of time. The result could be a computer than runs infinitely into the future. 

What’s the Latest Development?

MIT physicist Frank Wilczek has theorized a design for a space-time crystal computer which, thanks to the laws of quantum physics, could continue to function even after the Universe succumbs to entropy and cools to absolute zero. “First you need an ion trap, a device which holds charged particles in place using an electric field. … Next, you apply a weak static magnetic field, which causes the ions to rotate. Quantum mechanics means that the rotational energy of the ions must be greater than zero, even when the ring is cooled to its lowest energy state.” Normally, this behavior would violate thermodynamic laws but superconductors allow electrons to rotate continuously.

What’s the Big Idea?

As the Universe accelerates, it cools, eventually dissipating all its energy until everything is cold, dark, and as far as life is concerned, dead. But if crystals, such as table salt, could be translated into the fourth dimension of time, Wilczek theorises that a working time crystal could be made into a computer, with different rotational states standing in for the 0s and 1s of a conventional computer. “To make it interesting you want to have different kinds of ions, maybe several rings that affect each other,” he says. “You can start to think about machines that run on this principle.”

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