Beam me up, Scotty: Scientists successfully teleport photons nearly 100 kilometers
Experiment smashes the previous distance record for quantum teleportation, and could soon make the technology practical.
Tue, May 15 2012 at 3:00 AM
Think teleportation is a fictional concept reserved for plot twists in sci-fi novels or philosophical thought experiments? Think again. Not only is teleportation possible, but scientists in China have recently teleported a photon a record-setting distance of 97 kilometers, according to MIT's Technology Review.
Since the previous distance record for teleportation was just 16 kilometers, this new record is an impressive feat-- and it might soon pave the way for the technology to become viable.
Before you get too excited, though, understand: This doesn't mean that scientists are close to realizing the technology from "Star Trek," or "The Fly." (Thank goodness, in the case of the latter.) Rather, the kind of teleportation performed in this experiment is quantum teleportation. So Scotty won't be beaming anybody up anytime soon, but since information can be encoded on the quantum level, he may be able to beam up information-- a triumph that could revolutionize communication speeds.
The bizarre quantum phenomenon that makes this possible is called entanglement. This is the mysterious link that certain particles, such as photons or electrons, can share even if they're separated by space. Basically, if one particle from an entangled pair takes on a value (i.e., a rate of spin), then the other of the pair will do the same thing. This can happen instantaneously, and theoretically, over any distance of space. How exactly entanglement works is still an enigma, but the fact that it works is well understood.
Teleporting information instantaneously over distance is therefore entirely feasible provided that scientists can control the phenomenon-- And that's the rub. It turns out that entangled particles are actually quite fragile. Controlling the information they contain is difficult to accomplish without also breaking the entanglement. That's where the scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai come in.
In order to keep photons entangled over such a great distance, the Chinese scientists created a 'steering mechanism' using a guide laser. This basically caused a pair of entangled photons to appear at two separate locations (in this case, two locations that were 97 kilometers apart) at the same time, in a way that could be experimentally measured through a classical channel.
The most obvious application of this technology will be to aid in communication speed. Obviously, there's nothing faster than instant communication. Information that can be sent via quantum teleportation also has the advantage of being secure. That is, it's not very easy to intercept information that doesn't technically travel over any space. So the technology may be of particular use to the military and intelligence agencies, too.
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