Breakthrough brings 'Star Trek' teleport a step closer

Scientists have set a new record in sending information through thin air using the revolutionary technology of quantum teleportation - although Mr Spock may have to wait a little longer for a Scotty to beam him up with it.

A team of physicists has teleported data over a distance of 89 miles from the Canary Island of La Palma to the neighbouring island of Tenerife, which is 10 times further than the previous attempt at teleportation through free space.

The scientists did it by exploiting the "spooky" and virtually unfathomable field of quantum entanglement - when the state of matter rather than matter itself is sent from one place to another. Tiny packets or particles of light, photons, were used to teleport information between telescopes on the two islands. The photons did it by quantum entanglement and scientists hope it will form the basis of a way of sending encrypted data.

The teleporters used in Star Trek are said to have been based on the idea of quantum entanglement and the latest study demonstrates that elements of the phenomenon could have a practical use in the real world.

However, quantum entanglement has so far been carried out only on the simplest forms of matter and scientists believe that a fundamentally new approach will be needed if it can ever be used for teleporting people or even non-living objects.

Robert Ursin of the University of Vienna said the latest experiment in quantum entanglement shows its potential as a means of communicating sensitive information via satellites using quantum cryptography, that could effectively deploy an uncrackable security code.

"We really wanted to show that this can be done in the real world and our dream is to go into space and try it there. This was a feasibility study funded by the European Space Agency," Dr Ursin said yesterday. "In principle, such experiments may in future be used for teleporting information between places, but our system is not capable of transporting matter," he said.

"We think Star Trek is really very good science fiction but I'm afraid teleporting people is not possible with current technology. But we could use some scheme to teleport information."

Albert Einstein described quantum entanglement as "spooky action at a distance" and it relies on the fact that two photons can be created in such a way that they behave as a single object, even if they are separated by large distances. In behaving in this way they are acting as a teleportation machine because any changes to one causes similar changes to the other. The way this is done is via a third photon, which is teleported from the photon in the transmitting station to the photon in the receiver.

In the process, the third photon becomes entangled with the transmitting photon and so carries its quantum information to the receiving photon, which interacts with the third photon in such a way that it becomes identical to it - hence the information is successfully transmitted.

The study is published in the journal Nature Physics.

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