A New Experiment Just Teleported a Particle and Pioneered the Quantum Internet

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 - 1:29PM
Science of Sci-Fi
Physics
Tuesday, 27 September 2016 - 1:29PM
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Before we're flooded with quotations of "Beam me up, Scotty" (and the obnoxious people who know it's actually "Scotty, beam me up"), let's take a moment to realize how insane this announcement from the University of Calgary really is. This was the farthest distance any particle has ever been teleported (4 miles) and it happened because 'entangled' particles, no matter how far apart they are, mirror one another's behaviors and state. This was a hypothesis that Albert Einstein called impossible. Here's a quick description of entanglement:

Opening quote
Entanglement occurs when two particles are so deeply linked that they share the same existence. In the language of quantum mechanics, they are described by the same mathematical relation known as a wavefunction. Entanglement arises naturally when two particles are created at the same point and instant in space, for example. Entangled particles can become widely separated in space. But even so, the mathematics implies that a measurement on one immediately influences the other, regardless of the distance between them.
Closing quote
 
According to the theory of special relativity, this didn't make sense. Einstein famously called the idea of entanglement 'spooky action at a distance.' And now, decades years later, quantum entanglement is being used to literally teleport particles around. Here's how Dr. Wolfgang Tittel, one of the scientists involved in the experiment, described it:

Opening quote
"When one of the photons was sent over to City Hall, it remained entangled with the photon that stayed at the University of Calgary. What happened is the instantaneous and disembodied transfer of the photon's quantum state onto the remaining photon of the entangled pair, which is the one that remained six kilometres [slightly less than 4 miles] away at the university."
Closing quote


What this experiment means is that entangled particles can be used for extremely long-range communication, sort of like binary: when one particle's state is changed, the other is, too. Strangely enough, sci-fi gamers may be nodding along to all this—quantum entanglement and superposition were the basis for Commander Shepard's communication station in the science-fiction game Mass Effect 2. Teleportation was also a major part of the sci-fi classic Half-Life, though it relied on the border world of Xen to operate. As for Star Trek's famous teleporters, things look a bit less feasible and a lot more philosophically complex.

But getting back to applications. According to Tittel's press release about the experiment:

Opening quote
"This demonstration is arguably one of the most striking manifestations of a puzzling prediction of quantum mechanics, but it also opens the path to building a future quantum internet, the long-term goal of the Tittel group."
Closing quote


That's right, a quantum internet. China recently launched a satellite that also relies on quantum communication, but what Tittel's experiment shows is that a terrestrial network, possibly built on particles of light and dark fiber cables, can be implemented to enable the exchange of information across vast, vast distances (in theory, even between planets), all without the risk of being hacked, intercepted, or decrypted. According to coverage of the experiment by Libertarian Republic, because of the nature of entanglement, any interference in the transmission of information between particles causes the transmission to "collapse."
 
So, for sci-fi fans, what we're looking at is the beginnings of a vast, unhackable, potentially interplanetary communication system based on scientific principles that seem to defy all logic and reason. We're already living in the future.
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