Windows into the Imagination

Friday, June 3, 2011

Science Fact or Fiction: Teleportation - Or Take Me Home the Quick Way

Just imagine it. You're in dreary cubicle, working your life away on some mind-numbing project. What you wouldn't give for a short break. Maybe a quick jaunt to Paris to enjoy a golden croissant and a perfect cup of coffee at a sidewalk café.
Step onto my teleport and I'll have you there and back in a jiffy.
Fantasy, you say? Science Fiction surely.

Captain Kirk and crew step onto the transporter platform in Star Trek, and get whisked away to an alien planet.
In Blakes 7, Kerr Avon and his crew step onto the teleport pad, wearing a bracelet that enables the transmission of matter as pure energy.
In SG-1, Jack and his intrepid team steps  through a  stargate built by the ancients.

But is teleportation possible?

In 2008, Michio Kaku, (a top theoretical physicist, co-founder of the string field theory and currently engaged in defining the "Theory of Everything"), in the book, Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel, discusses things that people think are impossible, by classifying them in 3 categories:

Class 1 - Technologies that are impossible today, but that do not violate the known laws of physics. He speculates that these technologies may become available in some limited form in a century or two. These include:  force fields, invisibility, teleportation, psychokinesis, intelligent robots, and starships.
 Class 2 - Technologies that sit at the very edge of our understanding of the physical world, and may take thousands or millions of years to become available. Including:  time travel, parallel universes, and faster-than-light travel.
Class 3 - Technologies that violate the known laws of physics. Development of Class 3 technologies would represent a fundamental shift in human understanding of physics. These would be:  precognition and perpetual motion machines.

Note that teleportation is categorized as a Class 1 technology, meaning that it may be possible, if not in our lifetime, but perhaps in our great-great-grandchildren's lifetimes.
How is this possible we may ask…with a 'little' big concept called, quantum entanglement.
In the past, the idea of teleportation wasn't taken seriously by scientists because it violated the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics. According to this principle, the more accurately an object is scanned, the more it is disturbed by the scanning process until it reaches a point where an object's original state is completely disrupted still without extracting enough information to make a perfect replica. In simpler terms, it means that it forbids any scanning process from extracting all the information in an atom or any object. And without enough information to make a perfect copy, then a perfect copy cannot be made, and thus teleportation is not possible.
Then, in 1993, an international group of six scientists, including IBM Fellow Charles H. Bennett, confirmed that perfect teleportation was possible using a using a paradoxical feature of quantum mechanics known as the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen effect, or quantum entanglement.
"(… place…) a pair of ions, or charged particles…each in a vacuum and keep them in position with electric fields. An ultra-fast laser pulse triggers the atoms to emit photons simultaneously. If the photons interact in just the right way, their parent atoms enter a quantum state known as entanglement, in which atom B adopts the properties of atom A even though they're in separate chambers a meter apart. When A is measured, the information that had been previously encoded on it disappears in accordance with the quirky rules of the quantum world. But all is not lost: because B is entangled with A, B now contains the information that was once carried on A. That information, in a very real sense, has been teleported." 1
The entanglement process destroys the information within atom A, so we won't have two copies after teleportation.
Bennett first showed the world information teleportation at the Watson Research Center in New York in 1993.  In the years since, scientists have demonstrated teleportation in a variety of systems, including single photons, atoms and ions.
Within the next few decades, scientists may be able to teleport a DNA molecule or even a virus.
As for teleporting a human being…time will tell.

Further footnotes:

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