Captain Kirk would be proud. We’ve achieved teleportation.
A joint team of researchers from Fermilab, AT&T, Caltech, Harvard University, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and University of Calgary successfully managed to teleport qubits, or quantum bits, on two different systems known as the Caltech Quantum Network and the FermiLab Quantum Network. Incredibly, they were able to teleport the quantum bits over a fiber-optic network that spanned 44 kilometers, and with a fidelity greater than 90%.
Known as quantum teleportation, the technique has attracted a great deal of attention; not because people want to teleport to avoid commutes, but rather, because of its possible applications in information transfer.
Quantum teleportation involves a phenomena known as quantum entanglement. What happens is that when two quantum objects, such as two electrons, are entangled together, the state of one particle cannot be described independently of the state of the other particle. For example, if one electron is spun counter-clockwise, the other electron will spin clockwise.
This may sound a bit anti-climatic, but the potential behind this is overwhelmingly significant.
Why, you may ask?
Because the interaction is instantaneous across vast distances, meaning it is literally faster than the speed of light.
First coined as “spooky action at a distance” by none other than Albert Einstein, the phenomena of quantum entanglement would make possible the much-sought-after quantum internet; a form of the modern internet, but with exponentially faster speeds, and a likely impenetrable security standard.
Amazingly, the prospect of the quantum internet is much more than a hypothetical possibility. Both the Caltech Quantum Network and the Fermilab Quantum Network are technologically compatible with the existing infrastructure that supports the internet today. As Panagiotis Spentzouris of Fermilab stated in an article on their website, “With this demonstration we’re beginning to lay the foundation for the construction of a Chicago-area metropolitan quantum network,”
An incredible innovation in its own right, the Chicago-area metropolitan quantum network, otherwise known as the Illinois Express Quantum Network, brought together Fermilab, Argonne National Laboratory, Caltech, Northwestern University and other industry partners in a multi-disciplinary project, with the Department of Energy providing 3.2 million dollars in funding back in 2019.
“The feat is a testament to success of collaboration across disciplines and institutions, which drives so much of what we accomplish in science,” said Fermilab Deputy Director of Research Joe Lykken. “I commend the IN-Q-NET team and our partners in academia and industry on this first-of-its-kind achievement in quantum teleportation.”
This may not be the kind of teleportation that we see in Star Trek, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. In an article written by a group of University of Leicester physics students, they calculated the amount of information in a single human as being 2.6×1042 bits. They then estimated that with a 30 Ghz bandwidth connection, one could hypothetically transfer the data of a single human within a reasonable (not at all) 4.85×1015 years.
Perhaps, with the advent of the quantum network and all possible improvements thereafter, such massive amounts of data will be more easily processed, and with any luck, maybe one day teleportation will become a scientific certainty.