As any fan of Star Trek knows, Beam me up, Scotty, is what Captain Kirk used to say to his main engineer, Scotty, whenever he was on the surface of a planet and needed to return to the Enterprise. This beaming up (or down) was done with the transporter, which converted a person or an object into an energy pattern (dematerialized) and beamed it at a target, where the person or object rematerialized. When I saw my first Star Trek episode back in the Sixties, I thought, Wow, how cool is this? Teleportation.
I had zero clue, of course, about the science behind this. Hey, I was a Spanish major. But intuitively, it seemed possible.
In 1980 or so, I read Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics and remembered how blown away I was about Zukav’s description of Bell’s Theorem. “It says that not only do events in the realm of the very small behave in ways which are utterly different from our commonsense view of the world, but also that events in the world at large, the world of freeways and sports cars, behave in ways which are utterly different from our commonsense view of them,” wrote Zukav.
Zukav uses a neon sign as an example. “Imagine a gas that emits light when it is electrically excited. The excited atoms in the gas emit photons in pairs. The photons in each pair fly off in opposite directions. Except for the difference in their direction of travel, the photons in each pair are identical twins. If one of them is polarized vertically, the other one also is polarized vertically.” The same is true for polarization horizontally.
We now know this phenomenon is called entanglement. When two particles are entangled, then what you do to one particle instantaneously impacts its twin. What one knows the other knows.
They are intimately connected. As Zukav noted (back in 1979 when the book was first published) “Bell’s theorem could be the Trojan horse in the physicists’ camp; first, because it proves that quantum theory requires connections that appear to resemble telepathic communication and second, because it provides the mathematical framework through which serious physicists…could find themselves discussing types of phenomena which, ironically, they do not believe exist.”
Now, fast forward to 2013. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich recently used entanglement to teleport information across a quarter of an inch. So? we ask. The Internet sends info all over the world in less time than it take you to blink. The difference is that the information is sent through electromagnetic pulses. Mobile devices use microwave pulses and with fiber connections, optical pulses are used. What’s significant about what the Zurich researchers did is that the pulse – the information carrier – was skipped.
As explained in a Christian Science Monitor article, “Quantum teleportation… sends only pure information, from one entangled particle to another. Once the particles are entangled, giving information to one means the other instantaneously knows it, too.”
Andreas Wallraff, professor of physics at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, said, this is “comparable to ‘beaming’ as shown in the science fiction series ‘Star Trek.’ The information does not travel from point A to point B. Instead, it appears at point B and disappears at point A, when read out at point B.”
Last year, Austrian scientists teleported a photon nearly 90 miles between La Palma and Tenerife, in the Canary Islands. But they used visible light in an optical system and the Zurich team “teleported information for the first time in a system that consists of electronic circuits.” For practical purposes, this means we are a step closer to the development of quantum computers.
These computers would be able to process information with “blinding speed,” and, as the Christian Science article noted, could make extraordinary things possible –even time travel…
Perhaps our children and grandchildren will be beaming themselves not only to Mars and Jupiter, but backward and forward in time as well. A strange and wondrous world!