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Crystals are nature's most orderly substances. Inside them, atoms and molecules are arranged in regular, repeating structures, giving rise to solids that are stable and rigid—and often beautiful to behold.

People have found crystals fascinating and attractive since before the dawn of modern science, often prizing them as jewels. In the 19th century scientists' quest to classify forms of crystals and understand their effect on light catalyzed important progress in mathematics and physics. Then, in the 20th century, study of the fundamental quantum mechanics of electrons in crystals led directly to modern semiconductor electronics and eventually to smartphones and the Internet.

The next step in our understanding of crystals is occurring now, thanks to a principle that arose from Albert Einstein's relativity theory: space and time are intimately connected and ultimately on the same footing. Thus, it is natural to wonder whether any objects display properties in time that are analogous to the properties of ordinary crystals in space. In exploring that question, we discovered “time crystals.” This new concept, along with the growing class of novel materials that fit within it, has led to exciting insights about physics, as well as the potential for novel applications, including clocks more accurate than any that exist now.

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Category: Science