We've still got a long way to go before human beings can be beamed from one place to another Star Trek-style, but on Friday a team of scientists at the University of Maryland achieved, nonetheless, a milestone in teleportation.
According to LiveScience, the university's Joint Quantum Institute for the first time was able to teleport information between two separate atoms across a distance of a meter--about one step for an adult.
Generally, teleportation works thanks to a remarkable quantum phenomenon called entanglement that only occurs on the atomic and subatomic scale. Once two objects are put in an entangled state, their properties are inextricably entwined. In layman's terms, if they are in entangled mode, what you "see" on one is what you get on the other.
The JQI team set out to entangle the quantum states of two individual ytterbium ions so information embodied in one could be teleported to the other. Each ion was isolated in a separate high-vacuum trap, suspended in an invisible cage of electromagnetic fields and surrounded by metal electrodes.
After that, the experiment worked like this: Single photons from each of two ions in separate traps interacted at a beamsplitter. When both detectors recorded a photon simultaneously, the ions were entangled. At that point, ion A was measured, revealing exactly what operation had to be performed on ion B to teleport ion A's information (see illustration at right).
It's important to note that the achievement is not any form of conventional communication. This is because in teleportation no information pertaining to the original object actually travels to the other. Instead, the information measured from the first object appears on the second object.
The research was supported in part by the Intelligence Advanced Research Project Activity program under U.S. Army Research Office contract.