Beam Me Up, Mate!

Carl and Raylene Worthington hold hands during opening statements on Monday, June 29, 2009 in Clackamas County Circuit Court in Oregon City, Ore. The Worthingtons, members of the Followers of Christ church, are charged with manslaughter in death of their 15-month-old daughter, Ava, who died March 2, 2008, of pneumonia that the state medical examiner ruled could have been easily cured with antibiotics. (AP Photo/Randy L Rasmussen, Pool) AP Photo/Randy L. Rasmussen

In a world breakthrough out of the realms of Star Trek, scientists in Australia have successfully teleported a laser beam of light from one spot to another in a split second but warn: don't sell the car yet.

A team of physicists at the Australian National University (ANU) announced on Monday they had successfully disembodied a laser beam in one location and rebuilt it in a different spot about one meter away in the blink of an eye.

Project leader Dr Ping Koy Lam said there was a close resemblance between what his team had achieved and the movement of people in the science fiction series Star Trek but reality was still light years off beaming human beings between locations.

"In theory there is nothing stopping us from doing it but the complexity of the problem is so huge that no one is thinking seriously about it at the moment," Lam told a news conference.

However Lam said science was not too far from being able to teleport solid matter from one location to another.

"My prediction is...it will probably be done by someone in the next three to five years, that is the teleportation of a single atom," said Lam, who has worked on teleporting since
1997.

But he said humans posed a near-impossible task as we are made up of zillions of atoms -- quantified by a one with 27 zeroes -- so forget Star Trek where the Starship Enterprise crew step into a transporter, vaporize, then re-assemble elsewhere.

The laser beam was destroyed during teleporting which is achieved using a process known as quantum entanglement.

However the breakthrough opens up enormous possibilities for future super-fast and super-secure communications systems, such as quantum computers over the next decade.

Physicists believe quantum computers could outperform classical computers with enormous memory and the ability to solve problems millions of times faster.

Teleportation became one of the hottest topics among physicists in quantum mechanics in the past decade, after the IBM lab in the United States provided theoretical underpinning for the work in 1993. Since then about 40 laboratories globally have been experimenting in this area.

Although teams in California and Denmark were the first to do preliminary work on teleportation, the ANU team of scientists from Australia, Germany, France, China and New Zealand was the first to achieve a successful trial with 100 percent reliability.

The idea is if quantum particles like electrons, ions, and atoms have the same properties, they are essentially the same.

So if the properties of quantum particles making up an object are reproduced in another particle group, there would be a precise duplication of the object, so only information about the particles' properties need be transmitted, not the particles.

The inability to pass the information reliably has been a major stumbling block in past "entanglement" experiments.

ANU team member Warwick Bowen said they first successfully teleported a laser beam on May 23 to their great surprise, and repeated the success time after time in following weeks using their small-car-sized transporter, ironing out certain glitches.

"Even in Star Trek they realize there are problems with teleportation," Bowen told the news conference.

"It is such a complicated experiment that nobody knows whether their particular set-up is going to work until you do it.... and it turns out our system is very good."

By Belinda Goldsmith
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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