Teleportation Takes Quantum Leap

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
April 18, 2004

It sounds like something out of Star Trek.

Austrian researchers have teleported photons (particles of light) across the Danube River in Vienna using technology that calls to mind Scotty beaming up Captain Kirk in the science fiction series.

"We were able to perform a quantum teleportation experiment for the first time ever outside a university laboratory," said Rupert Ursin, a researcher at the Institute for Experimental Physics at the University of Vienna in Austria.

The researchers read the "blueprints" of the photons they wanted to teleport. They then broke up the photons into smaller particles called quantum bits and sent these bits, along with the blueprints, through a fiber-optic cable in a sewage pipe under the river.

At the other end, replicas of the original photons were created. The original photons ceased to exist once the replicas were created.

Quantum teleportation may have progressed from science fiction to reality. But don't look for a Star Trek transporter anytime soon. This science has little to do with beaming people from one place to another.

Instead, scientists hope the technology could become crucial for quantum computing and quantum cryptology, areas that promise to make computing much faster and 100 percent secure.

The research is reported in this week's issue of the science journal Nature.

Disappearing Act

Teleportation involves dematerializing an object at one point and transferring the precise details of its configuration to another location, where the object is then reconstructed.

In quantum teleportation tiny units of computer information, called quantum bits, are transferred from one place to another. The technology is called teleportation because the information moved behaves more like an object than normal information.

"If you're writing an e-mail, you're sending [something] into a cable where it will travel and then come out at the other end," Ursin said. "But with quantum teleportation, you will not find the [full] information that you sent inside the cable. It's taken apart and put back together at the other end."

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