Beam Me Up? Not Yet, But Physicists Able to Teleport Data

Friday, 30 May 2014 10:28 PM

By Cathy Burke

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Physicists have proven it’s possible to teleport information encoded into sub-atomic particles between two points about 10 feet apart – an important first step toward developing super-fast quantum computers that would be hackproof.

The research at the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, though not a Star Trek-style "beaming up," exploits the way ''entangled'' particles acquire a merged identity, with the state of one instantly influencing the other no matter how far apart they are, the British newspaper Telegraph reports.

Albert Einstein dismissed entanglement, calling it ''spooky action at a distance," The New York Times notes.

"There is a big race going on between five or six groups to prove Einstein wrong," Ronald Hanson, a physicist who leads the group at Delft, told The Times. "There is one very big fish."

In Hanson's experiment, three entangled particles — a nitrogen atom locked in a diamond crystal and two electrons — were used to transfer spin information a distance of three meters, or about 10 feet.

Four possible states were transmitted, each corresponding to a ''qubit'', the quantum equivalent of a digital ''bit," the Telegraph explained. Each ''bit'' of information in a classical computer represents one of two values, normally zero or one.

But a ''qubit'' can represent a zero, a one, or a ''superposition'' of both states at the same time.

The research was published Thursday in the journal Science.

''The main application of quantum teleportation is a quantum version of the Internet, extending a global network that we can use to send quantum information," Hanson told the Telegraph. ''We have shown that it's possible to do this, and it works every time that you try. It provides the first building block of the future quantum Internet … and there's no way anyone can intercept that information. In principle, it's 100 percent secure.''

An experiment involving the teleportation of information between buildings on the university campus is planned in July.

Hanson said he hopes the experiments will answer Einstein's main objection to teleportation, the possibility that a signal passes between entangled particles at the speed of light.

''I believe it will work. But it's a huge technical challenge — there's a reason why nobody has done it yet," he told the Telegraph.

As for beaming up people, that’s for the far future, he told the newspaper.

''What we are teleporting is the state of a particle,'' he said. ''If you believe we are nothing more than a collection of atoms strung together in a particular way, then in principle it should be possible to teleport ourselves from one place to another.

''I would not rule it out, because there's no fundamental law of physics preventing it. If it ever does happen, it will be far in the future.''

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