Chinese scientists working to expand the reach of the sexy new science of quantum teleportation have achieved a new and stunning milestone – the transportation of quantum information over a distance of 16 kilometers. Greater than the effective aerosphere distance of the planet as well as to any Starbucks that isn't pretentious, this holds great possibility for ground-to-space communications.
And for ease of drive-thru ordering.
Using a "free space" ground-level channel located between Beijing and Huailai, experimentalists from the University of Science and Technology of China and Tsinghua University in Beijing were able to transmit change of state information from photon to photon over a distance of 16km.
Quantum Teleportation Test Site Map
Confused? So are we, frankly, but here's the gist.
Quantum teleportation isn't like Star Trek. No one is getting beamed up, and the transporter can't disable weapons or cure diseases. Instead, two photon or ions are "tangled up" in one another so that when one leaves, the other is still fundamentally connected to it.
Let's say photon 1 and photon 2 are stressed out. Entangled, but stressed out. Photon one goes for a drive. He sees the ocean, pets some dogs, and finally gets an ice cream cone. Relaxing on his favorite bench, photon 1 transmits his new-found feelings of contentment and joy to photon 2, sixteen kilometers away. This triggers a transformation of photon 2, who is suddenly just as relaxed, despite having a dirty house and a dwindling bank account.
It is the state of the photon or ion that changes, and this state-change can be transmitted and instantly reflected in the photon that is left behind, due to their inter-connectedness. So far, scientists have only manged to keep the fidelity of the transmissions to around 89%, which in our example means that although photon 2 would be feeling significantly more relaxed, there would still be some portion of him that had not fully changed, and was still worried about how that leak in the roof was going to get fixed.
Still, this is stunning. By confirming that quantum teleportation is feasible over a distance that will reach beyond the atmosphere of earth, possibilities emerge for space-based communications that will involve no delay whatsoever, and could lead to worldwide quantum satellite networks.
Sadly, the days of beaming up to a low-orbiting starship may never come, but at least there's a possibility that the words "transporter technology" can be used in a sentence without adding the obligatory "beam me up, Scotty".
If we were Scotty, we'd have just left him there. He didn't buy us any ice cream.