Dutch physicists have successfully sent information instantaneously without Wifi or cables, using an exciting new development in quantum teleportation. Star Trek fans will be disappointed to find they still have no chance to get transported aboard a starship or even across the room, but quantum teleportation has important implications that are interesting, even if we cannot yet realize “Beam me up, Scottie.”
Albert Einstein noted to Erwin Schrodinger in 1925 that quanta (like photons or electrons) had a tendency to pair up, with “a preference to sit together…” (Boy and girl quanta sitting in a tree…) Schrodinger wrote the next year of a “certain dependence of the gas molecules upon one another, or an interaction between them.”
In 1935, Einstein and assistants Podolsky and Rosen published the landmark “EPR” paper on quantum theory that, among other things, describes the connectedness of pairs of particles. They observed that changes in the momentum or position of one particle always coincided with equivalent changes in momentum or position of the partner particle, even if they had been separated by a great distance. Sometimes husbands and wives feel the same way. Schrodinger followed up on this the next year, describing the strange connection between two particles as “entanglement.” Einstein didn’t particularly like the idea because it violated classical mechanics, calling it, “spooky actions at a distance.”
The reality of quantum entanglement has since been demonstrated many times, and what makes this phenomenon so remarkable is that distantly separated particle pairs may influence one another faster than the speed of light. That is, the change in a quantum state of one electron or photon appears to instantaneously affect the other particle in the entangled pair — even if they’re separated by distance.
In 2012, an international team of physicists broke the quantum teleportation record by demonstrating instantaneous communication between photons 90 miles from each other. The great thing about the recent Dutch physicists’ experiment is that they were able to get it to work 100% of the time without degradation in the information, and they teleported the information using quantum bits in computer chips. Yes! Computer chips.
Computers communicate information in binary code, in terms of ones and zeroes. The bits of information from quanta — qubits — can hold several values at once. That is, they can be 0, 1 or a superposition of both 0 and 1, which is part of what makes quantum physics so bizarre. Physicists at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands trapped electrons inside small synthetic diamonds at extremely cold temperatures so they could observe their properties like “spin.” They purposely entangled the pair of electrons in separate diamonds, then successfully translated information from one member of the pair to the other 10 meters away. While the information was destroyed at the site of the first electron, the same information was been reproduced at the site of the second electron across the room. The information is considered to have “teleported” because it didn’t actually move, it just disappeared here and reappeared there.
It’s not really teleporting the way we think of it. It’s more like the researchers took advantage of quantum entanglement to tickle one electron so it made the other electron laugh.
“We’re able to set the spin (rotational direction) of these particles in a predetermined state, verify this spin and subsequently read out the data. We do all this in a material that can be used to make chips out of. This is important as many believe that only chip-based systems can be scaled up to a practical technology,” research team leader Ronald Hanson wrote in a summary.
The team had great success at just 10 meters separation between the electrons. The next step is to see if the same level of success can be maintained at greater distances. Next stop, one kilometer.
The Quantum Future
Developing computer chips that use quantum teleportation to send information would make our current desktop computers seem like Commodore 64s. If those little quanta can be controlled, they can theoretically send data in the twinkling of an eye (1×10-34 seconds). There would be no way to intercept the information either, because it doesn’t travel. It’s either here or there.
Physicists still don’t understand quantum entanglement; they just watch it take place. Quantum particles do not obey the same laws of physics that we do, and the only thing going for this bizarre field is that it actually works. Yet, the fact that one electron or photon can instantly communicate with another speaks of greater dimensions of this world beyond what we can see.
- Scientists Set New ‘Quantum Teleportation’ Record
— PC Mag
- Beam Me Up, Data
— TU Delft
- Dutch Scientists Achieve Quantum Teleportation Breakthrough
— PC Mag
- Scientists Report Finding Reliable Way to Teleport Data
— The New York Times
- Scientists achieve reliable quantum teleportation for first time
- Quantum Entanglement and Information
— Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Unconditional quantum teleportation between distant solid-state quantum bits
— Science Mag
- Experimental Realization of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen-Bohm Gedankenexperiment: A New Violation of Bell’s Inequalities
— Physical Review Letters
Teleportation Is Real and Here’s Why it Matters