Science Scoops: Beam Me Up, Scotty!

It's true! It's happened! It's amazing! Scientists at the Australian National University have successfully “teleported” a laser beam encoded with data! That's right. Australian physicist Ping Koy Lam and his 12-member team were able to completely break apart a data-filled light beam into billions of photons. Then, after making some measurements of the destroyed beam, they were able to fully reconstruct an exact replica of the destroyed beam a meter (more than a yard) away!

But don't get your hopes too high—yet—that this fantastic development will lead to human teleportation. Right now, Lam's teleport system will be used in a new generation of super-fast computers. But Lam says that he believes the process, called “quantum teleportation” (which takes but a nanosecond, or one billionth of one second), will soon be used for teleporting matter. In fact, he predicts that someone will probably be able to teleport an atom or a group of atoms in the next three to five years!

Teleporting a living person, however, would likely be virtually impossible, Lam says. “In theory, there is nothing stopping us, but the complexity of the problem is so huge that no one is thinking seriously about it at the moment.”

Vocabulary

photon:
A unit of light measurement.

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Activity

  1. What did the team at the Australian National University do to a laser beam?
    [anno: The team broke apart a data-filled laser beam. Then they reconstructed it from its billions of photons.]
  2. The article said that the team made some measurements in preparation for their experiment. What kind of measurements would help the team accurately perform this experiment?
    [anno: Answers may vary but could include that the team would need to take accurate measurements of the wavelength and amplitude of the light beam in order to re-create it exactly.]
  3. Why is the ability to do what this team did to a laser beam useful?
    [anno: Answers may vary but could include that breaking apart and re-creating a laser beam allows for the transfer of large amounts of data.]
  4. How do you think data was contained in the laser beam?
    [anno: Answers will vary but could include that data was contained by the arrangement of the photons and by the wavelength and amplitude of the beam.]