Ever dreamed of being teleported vast distances across interstellar space, your body split down to its very atoms and beamed to an exotic new location where it is then knit back together, creating a whole and complete you?

 

If you have, chances are recent headlines trumpeting the successful advent of quantum teleportation set your heart pounding and your blood racing through your veins. Unfortunately, your atoms will not be traipsing across the universe anytime soon. Fortunately, the headlines are true anyway. Researchers at Delft University in the Netherlands have successfully transmitted quantum information at distances of up to ten feet.

 

To begin with, let us brush up on our quantum mechanics — translation: let us desperately try to understand incomprehensible Wikipedia articles on the subject so we can actually process what we are reading. At the subatomic level, information can be divided into two types: classical and quantum. The dignified hero of classical information is the bit, a perfectly delineated two-value unit typically expressed as a one or a zero. The elusive rapscallion of quantum information is the quantum bit or qubit, an altogether stranger creation entirely.

 

Qubits do not have set values, presenting a tough pickle for scientists interested in transmitting their information. Additionally, they claim a couple intriguing differences from classical bits, including the fact that they can never be copied — the act of copying disturbs the quantum system of changing values — and can never be erased. Transmitting qubits involves separating them from their underlying particles, which is one reason this brand of quantum teleportation will not be appearing on “Star Trek” anytime soon — it ditches the atoms, thus rendering the process useless for beaming William Shatner anywhere at all, which is probably a good thing.

 

The Delft researchers apparently teleported a qubit to a completely separate location by leveraging something known as a quantum entanglement, where particles of matter are linked on the quantum level in such a way that measuring one locks in the possible states of the other linked particles. The Delft team encoded certain characteristics in the nitrogen atoms of super-chilled diamonds and then instructed one atom to flip characteristics. The other did so instantaneously, successfully teleporting quantum information for the first time in history.

 

This is all heady stuff; to be sure, witness the cries of “Einstein might be wrong!” to realize just how strange the field of quantum mechanics can be. However, quantum study could one day generate a dazzling array of technological advances, from perfectly secure information transmission to the bottom line in code-breaking. The Delft discovery is best viewed as a small step towards greater things, a peephole in on a new and remarkable world.

 

What do you think? Does quantum research excite you, or does it all seem too strange? Would you be nervous if the NSA got their hands on a quantum computer? Start the discussion in the comments below or connect with me on Twitter @aa_murph