There is probably not a kid – or adult – on Planet Earth who has watched a TV show or movie where a character teleports and not wished they could do the same.
Seriously, just try and wrap your head around the benefits; low commute times, zero dealings with second-rate drivers who should have never passed their test in the first place, a trip to the vacation spot of your choice at any given time of the day. Truly marvellous stuff.
Here in 2017, we’re a far cry away from pulling a Doc Brown and teleporting through time by accelerating a DeLorean DMC-12 up to 88mph to activate the flux capacitor. But, in a magnificent breakthrough for science, a team of Chinese researchers have given us a phenomenal push in the right direction by teleporting a particle from the Gobi Desert in northern China to a satellite in space.
The group achieved the remarkable process through “quantum entanglement”. Simply explained, each photon – a particle which allows light to be carried over space – has its own quantum state, but sometimes two particles can act on one another and become an entangled system, having the same wave function. The second photon is a mirror image of the first and will imitate its identity, sharing the same qualities.
Using the Micius satellite, launched in August 2016 specifically to perform cutting-edge quantum experiments like this, the scientists used pairs of entangled particles to recreate exactly the properties of a photon on Earth in a photon in orbit.
For those who want to grasp a better understanding of quantum entanglement, this video will tell you everything you need to know:
It is a major breakthrough for those in the science industry; scientists have experimented previously with quantum entanglement but found it impossible to teleport a photon more than 100 kilometres due to atmospheric interference. Amazingly, the Chinese team have reportedly teleported the photon over five times that distance, achieving this by building a ground station at an altitude of four thousands metres.
In a statement, the team spoke of their incredible achievement which they describe as “an essential step toward global-scale quantum internet”. Ji-Gang Ren, of the University of Science and Technology of China, and colleagues stated: “We report the first quantum teleportation of independent single-photon qubits from a ground observatory to a low Earth orbit satellite – through an up-link channel – with a distance up to 1400 km. This work establishes the first ground-to-satellite up-link for faithful and ultra-long-distance quantum teleportation, an essential step toward global-scale quantum internet.”
So, what does teleporting a photon to space mean for the rest of us? Unfortunately, not much at the current time. It’s going to be a long time before you Trekkies can live out your science-fiction dreams and yell “beam me up, Scotty” to your chief engineer.
The entanglement and eventual teleportation process is so fragile, if scientists sent a human being, their particles are likely to break up during the transfer, meaning that they would cease to exist. Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to keep on dreaming of that relaxing morning commute.