Star Trek transporters take a giant leap towards reality

LIKE any other self-respecting geek, I am massively frustrated that we aren’t all getting around by jet packs and Star Trek transporters like in the comics of my youth.

I blogged a while back about jet packs coming closer to reality, and now transporters have taken a massive leap forward too. (Just don’t expect to be shaving time off your daily commute any time yet)

The Technology Review blog reports that Masahiro Hotta at Tohoku University in Japan has come up with a theory to teleport energy for the first time.

Basically, his work builds on the established transporter theory which says that two particles can share the same existance, due to something called quantum entanglement.

Because of that link, a measurement on one particle affects the other no matter how far apart they are, and that link can be used to transfer information without it having to pass through the intervening space. Still with me?

That idea was first posited by a chap called Charlie Bennett in 1993, but Hotta has taken to the next level. Here’s the explanation.

The process of teleportation involves making a measurement on each one of an entangled pair of particles. He points out that the measurement on the first particle injects quantum energy into the system. He then shows that by carefully choosing the measurement to do on the second particle, it is possible to extract the original energy.

All this is possible because there are always quantum fluctuations in the energy of any particle. The teleportation process allows you to inject quantum energy at one point in the universe and then exploit quantum energy fluctuations to extract it from another point. Of course, the energy of the system as whole is unchanged.

He gives the example of a string of entangled ions oscillating back and forth in an electric field trap, a bit like Newton’s balls. Measuring the state of the first ion injects energy into the system in the form of a phonon, a quantum of oscillation. Hotta says that performing the right kind of measurement on the last ion extracts this energy. Since this can be done at the speed of light (in principle), the phonon doesn’t travel across the intermediate ions so there is no heating of these ions. The energy has been transmitted without traveling across the intervening space. That’s teleportation.

My …. brain … hurts! And what the hell are Newton’s balls?

That burning questions aside, this is exciting stuff.

While we are still miles away from transporting a real person (no-one has invented a working Heisenberg Compensator yet I notice) news like this means I can pretend it will be up and running by next week.

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