Observation of a prethermal time crystalAntonis Kyprianidis†, Francisco Machado†, William Morong, Patrick Becker, Kate S. Collins, Dominic V. Else, Lei Feng, Paul W. Hess, Chetan Nayak, Guido Pagano, Norman Y. Yao, Christopher Monroe,
The conventional framework for defining and understanding phases of matter requires thermodynamic equilibrium. Extensions to non-equilibrium systems have led to surprising insights into the nature of many-body thermalization and the discovery of novel phases of matter, often catalyzed by driving the system periodically. The inherent heating from such Floquet drives can be tempered by including strong disorder in the system, but this can also mask the generality of non-equilibrium phases. In this work, we utilize a trapped-ion quantum simulator to observe signatures of a non-equilibrium driven phase without disorder: the prethermal discrete time crystal (PDTC). Here, many-body heating is suppressed not by disorder-induced many-body localization, but instead via high-frequency driving, leading to an expansive time window where non-equilibrium phases can emerge. We observe a number of key features that distinguish the PDTC from its many-body-localized disordered counterpart, such as the drive-frequency control of its lifetime and the dependence of time-crystalline order on the energy density of the initial state. Floquet prethermalization is thus presented as a general strategy for creating, stabilizing and studying intrinsically out-of-equilibrium phases of matter.