Beam us up Scotty

Teleportation is no more a fantasy

 
Published: Thursday 15 November 2001

remember Star Trek -- the serial which made Mr Spock, Captain Kirk legends? And the fantastical teleportation used to transport the two across to planets? Well, fantasy might soon turn to reality. Or almost. Scientists have made the hard part of teleportation happen --- not on next week's episode of the new Star Trek series, but in a real-life lab in Denmark. But don't expect people or objects to be physically taken apart and recreated as they are on the Starship Enterprise. Instead, it is information about matter that's being moved from one place to the other. And for scientists the transfer of information between matters is as revolutionary an idea.

The idea is that if quantum particles -- electrons, ions, atoms and the like -- have exactly the same properties, then they're essentially the same. So if the properties of the quantum particles making up an object are reproduced in another particle group, there would be a precise duplicate of the original object. Therefore, all that needs to be transmitted is the information about the particles' properties, not the particles themselves.

'A teleportation machine would be like a fax machine, except that it would work on three-dimensional objects as well as documents. It would produce an exact copy rather than an approximate facsimile, and it would destroy the original in the process of scanning it," writes quantum teleportation pioneer Charles Bennett on an IBM Research.

In findings released in the current edition of the journal Nature , Eugene Polzik and his fellow physicists at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, showed how they took steps to make this theory more concrete. Using a beam of light, Polzik's team told a one trillion-atom puff of caesium gas to take on one property -- the quantum 'spin' -- of another. This kind of ultra-precise quantum correlation -- impossible to explain using classical physics -- is known as 'entanglement'.

Scientists have engaged in small-scale entanglement before, but only for a few atoms at a time, and only for very brief periods of time. These quantum states are delicate. And the more atoms involved, the more delicate the states become.

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