A study published in the June 2010 issue of the scientific journal Nature Photonics describes how scientists in China were able to push telecommunications technology forward in a very Star Trekian way. Scientists believe this new breakthrough in photon science will lead to worldwide unbreakable, encrypted communication.
These scientists used photonic teleportation to move information a record breaking 9.9 miles (16 kilometers). They managed to entangle bits of light and matter and then use the properties of that entanglement to move information. Entangling minuscule bits of light and matter, called quantum teleportation, isn't new — the problem is that they've never been able to do much with it. The bits become untangled after moving only a few yards; the trick is to keep the light and matter together as long as possible.
This is the science behind it: When bits of light and matter become entangled, what happens to one particle happens to the other; when they get untangled. Scientists are only able to move information as far as the atoms remain entangled, so keeping them together for nearly 10 miles is staggering.
The Chinese scientists used a blue laser, a semiconductor, and a beta-barium borate crystal to entangle two light photons. They then sent the photon with more energy from Beijing to a site in Hebei province (9.9 miles away). They managed to get one photon to change polarization when the other photon did.
The science minded among us are likely already impressed. But those of us to whom the above information is a bit like stereo instructions, here's the really neato part: They did this through free space. Now we see why scientists the world over are looking at this new development for a next-gen satellite telecomm network that would use quantum teleportation.
But a phone call on this network wouldn't be much faster than calls are now. While the quantum teleportation-based call would travel faster than the speed of light, the necessary decoder key would travel at the usual rate. Scientists are touting that it would be impossible to eavesdrop on a phone call that uses quantum teleportation; this is because the entangled photons won't entangle with any other photons. It's like photons coupled for life. So even if the message was noted, the eavesdropper would need to have the decoder key that was communicated over traditional telecomm infrastructure.
The project's scientists think that this technology will be particularly useful for communicating with orbiting spacecraft. There is still no talk of being able to teleport objects or people to said spacecraft, but it seems, Scotty wasn't too far off the mark.
Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conducting science experiments at home. Nicole has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Transylvania University, and has experience in copywriting for education, print, business, and the web. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter via @HuTerra.