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Human teleportation: how close to reality?
S.S. Verma

To travel faster has always fascinated human beings and ever since the wheel was invented more than 5,000 years ago, people have been developing new ways to accomplish the same. Various modes of transportation from chariot to rocket have all been invented to decrease the amount of time being spent in getting to the desired destinations.

But what if there were a way to go from home to the supermarket, or from backyard to the International Space Station without having to use any type of vehicle? A method for such a travel by combining properties of telecommunications and transportation is called teleportation. Teleportation involves dematerialising an object (converting mass into energy) at one point, and sending the details of that object’s precise atomic configuration to another location, where it will be reconstructed (conversion of energy into mass) with same memories, emotions, hopes and dreams. It means that time and space could be eliminated from travel and we could be transported to any location instantly, without actually crossing a physical distance.

The concept of teleportation of microscopic objects (or classical teleportation) is not all new to viewers of TV serials based on Hindu mythology, or like Star Trek, Shaktiman etc.. Our religious books and stories also depict great men with such supernatural powers of achieving teleportation of themselves as well as helping others to achieve the same. However, in 1993, the idea of teleportation moved out of the realm of mythology and science fiction into the world of theoretical possibility. It was then that physicist Charles Bennett and a team of researchers at IBM (USA) confirmed that quantum (macroscopic objects) teleportation was possible. There are scientists working right now on such experiments that have actually achieved teleportation with photons, and one day we might be able to use teleportation to travel anywhere, at anytime.

Experiments

In 1998, physicists at the California Institute of Technology (USA) along with two European groups turned the IBM ideas into reality by successfully teleporting a photon, a particle of energy that carries light. The Caltech group was able to read the atomic structure of a photon, send this information across Imetre of coaxial cable and create a replica of the photon. As predicted, the original photon no longer existed once the replica was made. In performing the experiment, the Caltech group was able to get around the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, the main barrier or teleportation of objects larger than a photon. This principle states that you cannot simultaneously know the location and the speed of a particle. But if you can’t know the position of a particle, then how can you teleport it? In order to teleport a photon without violating the Heisenberg Principle, the Caltech physicists used a phenomenon known as entanglement. In entanglement, at lest three photons are needed to achieve quantum teleportation.

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Photon A: The photon to be teleported

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Photon B: The transporting photon

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Photon C: The photon that is entangled with photon B

If researchers tried to look too closely at photon A without entanglement, they would bump it, and thereby change it. By entangling photons B and C, researchers can extract some information about photon A and the remaining information would be passed on to B by way of entanglement, and then on to photon C.When researchers apply the information from photon A to photon C, they can create an exact replica of photon A. However, photon A no longer exists as it did before the information was sent to photon C.A more recent teleportation success was achieved at the Australian National University, when researchers successfully teleported a laser beam.

Though quantum teleportation does hold promise for quantum computing and these experiments with photons are important in developing networks that can distribute quantum information at a faster rate but the idea of creating replicas of objects and destroying the originals doesn’t sound too inviting for human teleportation.

Human Teleportation

For a person to be transported, a machine would have to be built that can pinpoint and analyse all of the 1028 atoms that make up the human body. This machine would then have to send this information to another location, where the person’s body would be reconstructed with exact precision. Molecules couldn’t be even a millimeter out of place, lest the person arrived with some severe neurological or physiological defect. In science fiction movies a machine called a transporter performs teleportation. The transporter is basically a platform that the characters stood on, while switches are adjusted on the control boards. The transporter machine then locked onto each atom of each person on the platform, and used a transporter carrier wave to transmit those emolecules to wherever the object wanted to go. Viewers see the body dissolving into a shiny glitter (energy) before disappearing and then rematerializing instantly on some distant place.

If such a machine were possible, it’s unlikely that the person being transported would actually be "transported." It would work more like a fax machine — a duplicate of the person would be made at the receiving end, but with much greater precision than a fax machine. But what would happen to the original? One theory suggests that teleportation would combine genetic cloning with digitisation. In this biodigital cloning, tele-travellers would have to die, in a sense. Their original mind and body would no longer exist. Instead, their atomic structure would be recreated in another location, and digitisation would still exist, but they would do so in a new body of the same atomic structure as the original body, programmed with the same information.

Still, we are years away from the development of a teleprotation machine like the transporter room on Star Trek’s enterprise spaceship. The laws of physics may even make it impossible to create a transporter that enables a person to be sent instantaneously to another location, which would require travel at the speed of light. But like at all technologies, scientists are sure to continue to improve upon the ideas of teleportation, to the point that we may one day be able to avoid such difficult methods of teleportation and the final teleportation technology will be within reach of a common man.

The writer is from the department of physics, S.L.I.E.T., Longowal

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