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OU on the BBC: Background Brief - Teleportation: The Story So Far

Updated Tuesday, 8th August 2006
Janice Acquah asks whether teleportation could be a reality, or is just science fiction

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Fax machine buttons Wouldn’t we all love to be able to bypass public transport and traffic jams by means of "beam me up Scotty" style teleportation?

Or escape from embarrassing situations instantaneously without leaving a trace?

We’ve all seen the movies and the TV programmes... But did you know that some reputable, bona fide physicists are working on teleportation for real? And they have high hopes that in the future teleportation may be an important feature of life and not just a sci-fi dream...

Janice Acquah decided to find out how much progress is being made ... and how long before driving cars and taking public transport become "sooooooo last century, darling...".

Andrew Greentree Physicists working on teleportation have already been successful in teleporting an entire ...... photon. A photon is an individual light particle, so this is definitely the stuff of high-tech labs as opposed to everyday life.

An important point to make is the fact that it’s not a case of transporting Photon A from one place to another. Instead it’s the "information" about Photon A which is replicated elsewhere as identical Photon B.

So forget the Star Trek idea of teleportation, whereby the team disappear from one location and appear in the new location. What we’re actually talking about is more like what happens when you use a fax machine. Information exists at one point - then is replicated elsewhere. The atoms making up the new fax message are not the same. But the message is...

The process by which the proton was teleported is known as ’quantum teleportation’, and it’s getting physicists and technologists very excited not least because of the potential applications it may throw up - such as superfast computing.

Fax message The property of sub-atomic particles which enables quantum teleportation to happen is called Entanglement.

Entanglement is an unseeable, instantaneous link between certain particles that can exist over vast distances. This means that the state of one particle is a replica of the other - even when that state changes.

Like much in quantum physics, this is a mind-boggling concept  for most people accustomed to events in the non-quantum world! But check out our links page for further reading on the matter.

Coin The Sixty-four Million Dollar Question though has to be: how does this progress in quantum teleportation relate to the future teleportation of larger objects - eg. Humans?

Well, in reality, the successful teleportation of a photon doesn’t bring us much closer to the age of travel-by-teleportation. This is because the problems of transmitting a collection of atoms presents a whole new set of practical problems…

Will it ever happen? Well, few people are saying it’ll "never" happen … but most physicists are highly dubious!


First broadcast: Friday 15 Oct 1999 on BBC TWO


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