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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Classical discrete time crystals

  • Author(s): Yao, NY;
  • Nayak, C;
  • Balents, L;
  • Zaletel, MP
  • et al.

The spontaneous breaking of time-translation symmetry in periodically driven quantum systems leads to a new phase of matter: the discrete time crystal (DTC). This phase exhibits collective subharmonic oscillations that depend upon an interplay of non-equilibrium driving, many-body interactions and the breakdown of ergodicity. However, subharmonic responses are also a well-known feature of classical dynamical systems ranging from predator–prey models to Faraday waves and a.c.-driven charge density waves. This raises the question of whether these classical phenomena display the same rigidity characteristic of a quantum DTC. In this work, we explore this question in the context of periodically driven Hamiltonian dynamics coupled to a finite-temperature bath, which provides both friction and, crucially, noise. Focusing on one-dimensional chains, where in equilibrium any transition would be forbidden at finite temperature, we provide evidence that the combination of noise and interactions drives a sharp, first-order dynamical phase transition between a discrete time-translation invariant phase and an activated classical discrete time crystal (CDTC) in which time-translation symmetry is broken out to exponentially long timescales. Power-law correlations are present along a first-order line, which terminates at a critical point. We analyse the transition by mapping it to the locked-to-sliding transition of a d.c.-driven charge density wave. Finally, building upon results from the field of probabilistic cellular automata, we conjecture the existence of classical time crystals with true long-range order, where time-translation symmetry is broken out to infinite times.

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