Chinese scientists teleported a particle into Earth’s orbit for the first time last year in an experiment that illustrated sci-fi technology in real life.
Teleportation has long been a sci-fi staple, from blockbusters like “X-Men” to popular TV series like “Star Trek.” We’re all familiar with the fictitious technology that can transport you from one place to another in a nanosecond. Well, this is no longer fantasy, but real-life teleportation is more likely to improve communication and national security than to be used for travel or space exploration.
Real World Versus Science Fiction
It’s important to distinguish between teleportation as we know it in sci-fi entertainment and as the term is used in quantum physics.
As described by Popular Mechanics, teleportation — in the “Beam me up, Scotty” sense — involves breaking down an object (or a person) to a bunch of atoms, transferring that object’s blueprint to another location and then rebuilding it with atoms in the new location.
In quantum mechanics, teleportation has a very different meaning. Jerome Luine, principal scientist and quantum sensing and metrology research lead at Northrop Grumman Next Basic Research, explained, “Quantum teleportation is the transfer of the quantum state of some quantum object (photon, atom, molecule, etc.) to another without alteration.”
How to Teleport a Quantum Object
Scientists at University of Science and Technology, located in Shanghai, achieved quantum teleportation at a record distance by sending entangled photons from Tibet to the Micius satellite in orbit 870 miles above the Earth, according to Space.com.
The recent record-setting teleportation experiment relied on quantum entanglement, a phenomenon that Albert Einstein called “‘spooky action at a distance,'” according to Science magazine.
When two quantum objects are entangled, they are connected so that if one is disturbed, the other will also immediately change, no matter how far apart they are from each other. Simply observing one of these particles will change its quantum state, therefore also changing the state of the other entangled particle, no matter the distance between them. Theoretically, even if they are light-years apart, if you observe one, it will immediately change the other, without any time delay, according to Popular Mechanics.
Implications of This Development
Will we ever learn how to teleport humans? “Not by quantum teleportation. Perhaps by some other completely different means,” said Luine.
However, quantum technology could become the foundation of a super-secure communications network, and because simply observing a quantum object changes its properties, a quantum internet would be spy-proof.
“In the future, it is quite possible that certain types of information will be transferred via quantum networks,” Luine said. “Teleportation will enable the transfer of quantum information in the form of quantum states from one place to another, thereby forming a quantum network. One advantage of a quantum network is that information can be transferred with absolute privacy. Messages cannot be intercepted and read by eavesdroppers.”
The Future of Quantum Teleportation
According to Science, the Chinese researchers are taking next steps toward practical sci-fi technology in real life by developing a space-based quantum internet. They plan to send strings of entangled photons from Micius to base stations on Earth, creating quantum “keys” for secret communications. Any attempt at eavesdropping on the quantum network would be obvious.
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