‘Beam Me Up Scotty’ Gets Closer!

The term teleportation was first coined in 1931 by American writer Charles Fort and, decades later, researchers are really getting the hang of it! First, in ’98, physicists at the California Institute of Technology successfully teleported a photon (a particle of light) one meter, then, in 2004, an Australian group managed to teleport a whole stream of photons from one side of their lab to the other (a great reason to have a Fosters!), and now what have they done? Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute of Copenhagen are teleporting information between gas atoms and gas atoms! Why is this amazing? Because that’s one step closer to transporting fully solid matter which could mean that, somewhere down the road, you won’t need that bus pass! 

Professor Eugene Polzik in the quantum optics laboratory.

Professor Eugene Polzik in the quantum optics laboratory.
Photo courtesy of Niels Bohr Institute of Copenhagen.

Working in the basement of the Niels Bohr Institute, the experiment goes like this (and I’m going to try to simplify this as much as possible!):

Two glass containers each hold a cloud of gas atoms, and, get this!, the glass containers aren’t touching, but information is teleported from one cloud to the other using laser light that is calibrated to a specific wavelength. The light goes into the first container and the phenomenon known as quantum entanglement takes place whereby the light and gas are now entangled! ie they can totally communicate with each other without using an iPhone. Even when the particles are separated a connection remains! Einstein called this behavior Spooky Entanglement and it’s pretty darned cool!

Two glass containers, each holding a cloud of billions of caesium gas atoms, are enclosed in a chamber with a magnetic field and are not connected to each other, but information is teleported from one glass cloud to the other by means of laser light. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Copenhagen - Niels Bohr Institute)

Two glass containers, each holding a cloud of billions of gas atoms, are enclosed in a chamber with a magnetic field and are not connected to each other, but information is teleported from one glass cloud to the other by means of laser light.
Photo courtesy of Niels Bohr Institute of Copenhagen.

Helping things out is a magnetic field that surrounds the containers and when the laser light hits the cloud of gas, the outermost electrons of the gas atoms react just like iron filings to a magnet, by all pointing in the same direction.

But wait, there’s more! The cloud of gas emits photons (again with the light particles) containing quantum information (that info being what direction the iron filings are pointing!). The light goes back to the other container where this quantum information is then read from the light and registered by a ‘detector’ (a mighty fancy gadget I would guess. Checked in the iPhone app store, they don’t have it.) Anyway, the signal from the detector is sent back to the first container that reacts to this newly updated direction of the atoms’ electrons and adjusts itself accordingly. Teleportation, baby! I am William Shatner! Where’s my sexy space woman!? (Okay, I’m a straight woman myself so I’ll settle for a semi-human-looking space man with a full set of teeth.)

Improvements in Technique

Carrying out experiments at room temperature apparently has a downside. With gas atoms moving at 200 meters per second in the glass container they constantly bump into the sides and lose their information (kind of like happy hour, but way more important for mankind).

But don’t fret! The research group is on it!

According to Eugene Polzik, professor and head of the research center Quantop at the Niels Bohr Institute…

“We use a coating of a kind of paraffin on the interior of the glass containers and it causes the gas atoms to not lose their coding, even if they bump into the glass wall.”

So they’re slathering it with Vaseline!? Got it. I’m building one now. Screw iPhone.

All this aside, really the only thing we care about is, when can we beam ourselves up? Well, it could be a while. In Prof. Polzik’s experiment, the teleportation’s range is ½ meter. Translation: for right now it’s way more cost effective to just, well, take a step. There! You’ve transported yourself 1/2 meter and it didn’t cost you a dime and you didn’t even need Vaseline. (Although it is really useful.)

Polzik continues…

“The range of ½ meter is entirely due to the size of the laboratory.”

Excuses! But admirable for a man to admit that size does matter.

“We could increase the range if we had the space and, in principle, we could teleport information, for example, to a satellite.”

Also worth considering is that, according to the Science Museum of London, the human body contains around seven thousand trillion trillion atoms. That’s a lot of room for error. So, even though these are great inroads for the future of quantum communication, when we finally beam ourselves up, we want to make sure all the kinks are ironed out. We don’t want fingers on foreheads or any extra boobs.*

*Some may debate this.

In the meantime, you’ll have to limit your quantum communications to a phone plan with unlimited texts.

Thanks for reading, now… move along, and don’t forget to live long and prosper.

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This article uses facts and information cited in an article by the Neils Bohr Institute of Copenhagen that can be found here and also a bit of stuff from wikipedia and a tad of stuff from the Science Museum of London. If you enjoyed it, please spread the word about Vibrate This using the buttons below, and of course, actual words (I know! Who knew?) :)

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