A recent demonstration from scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology suggests that we may be one step closer to developing quantum teleportation.
Physicists have just shattered a new record in the quest to develop quantum teleportation this week by transferring data from one photon to another through a 60-mile fiber optic cable. According to a report from CS Monitor, researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology have demonstrated a new design that allows photon detectors to take accurate measurements of even the weakest signals.
The report explains that quantum teleportation over fiber optic cables was possible with the use of four high-detection-efficiency superconducting detectors that were just nanometers wide. These SNSPDs allow “highly efficient multifold photon measurements,” which confirm that the quantum states of the original protons were transmitted successfully to the receiving end.
Subatomic particles behave differently than most observable matter in the universe. The rules of physics fail to apply to photons and other quantum particles as physicists study them. They can become ‘entangled’ with each other, and outside forces have an effect on both as if they were one, regardless of the distance that separates them. This property allowed physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to transfer the quantum state of one particle to a remote location.
There still may be a ways to go before we can teleport people instead of just photons. The study can offer new insights into the field of quantum encryption, which could lead to information that is impossible to hack by ordinary means. Over the past twenty years, the information security field has increasingly looked toward the quantum properties of light and matter to increase the speed and distance over which secure information can travel. At this point, engineers have figured out how to transfer a message via a key that unlocks secured information, but not yet an entire message.
Quantum properties refer to the German scientist Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle.” It states that if you measure one thing, it is impossible to measure another thing accurately. What does this mean? For example, the position of an electron orbiting an atom cannot be measured at the same time you’re measuring its velocity. If you measure its speed, you are unable to tell exactly where it is at that moment.
The uncertainty principle is interesting because it only becomes true when you’re trying to measure something. If you were unable to measure someone’s height and weight at the same time, both would exist in an intermediate state. Luckily, these properties don’t necessarily apply to people like they do to quantum particles.
Photons are the easiest particles to observe these properties in. They travel in a wave like formation and are polarized, which means they are constantly tilted in a specific direction.
Quantum properties are believed to be constant throughout all of time and space. Even if two photons are millions of light-years away at a given instance, the polarity of one photon affects the other. If you could place two observers watching the photon pair at each end of the distance between the particles, a switch in polarity on one end to vertical would result in a shift to a horizontal polarity on the part of the other photon.
Einstein was famously quoted, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Quantum mechanics were difficult to comprehend, and still are for the most part. Star Trek was famous for citing quantum mechanics as the secret to teleporting across the universe.
Even half a century after their discovery, quantum mechanics continue to baffle scientists. While the recent NIST demonstration proves that it is possible to alter the state of a photon in a deliberate and calculated fashion, recent developments could very soon lead to increased security for communications.