At the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience at the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, physicists were able to successfully “teleport” information over a distance of 10 feet, reports the New York Times.
There’s a lot going on in that idea, so let’s break it down.
The rules for the subatomic world are totally unlike the rules for our macroscopic world. A particle can be in multiple places at the same time, and can even disappear on one side of a barrier and reappear on the other side without actually traveling through it. This comes from quantum theory, and while it sounds totally nonintuitive, it’s one of the most successful models physicists have for understanding our world.
Many scientists around the world today are working to develop “quantum technology,” which is simply any technology that hinges upon these totally “abnormal” properties of the super-small stuff that makes up our world. The Mount Everest of quantum technology would be to build a quantum computer that could quickly solve problems that would leave our classical computers stumped. Instead of the standard bits we use in computers today — ones and zeroes — quantum bits, or “qubits,” can describe a one, a zero, or any value in between.
If this all sounds crazy or hard to understand, you’re in good company with a lot of smart people. Hang in there. A legitimate, functional quantum computer (it’s debatable as to if one has actually been built yet) would be absolutely bursting with computational potential.
Back to our Dutch scientists — they trapped qubits in diamonds and were able to establish a measurement of the qubits’ spin. This measurement is the acual information that was “teleported,” by way of a process called quantum entanglement. To simplify this idea a lot, entanglement is essentially what happens when one particle copycats another, even over a distance. Change the spin of one particle, the other instantly changes its spin to match.
Einstein famously decried entanglement, calling it “spooky action at a distance.” But repeated variations of this experiment only lend more credence to it as a completely valid natural phenomena that we are slowly learning to manipulate.
Forget Google Fiber. Once this stuff is perfected, a quantum internet that’s built upon it could mean instantaneous transmission and receipt of data around the world or even the universe! In 1964, an Irish physicist named John Bell predicted that this could be used to transmit data across light years of distance.
While 10 feet is no light year, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.