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Teleported! Bits vanish here, reappear there

teleportationbowie.jpg

David Bowie as real-life inventor Nikola Tesla in The Prestige where his character created a teleportation device. (Touchstone Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures)

For the first time, researchers have teleported 10,000 bits of information per second from point A to point B across a distance of about six millimeters and inside a solid state circuit, similar to a computer chip.

Although the accomplishment differs from teleporting mass, like a person — such as that seen on science fiction shows like Star Trek — the remarkable feat demonstrates what could be possible with a quantum computer.

The scientists, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, report their findings in this week’s issue of Nature.

In their experiment, the team spaced three micron-sized electronic circuits on a seven-by-seven-millimeter computer chip. Two of the circuits worked as a sending mechanism, while the other served as the receiver. The scientists cooled the chip to near absolute zero and ran a current through the circuits.

At that frigid temperature and small scale, the electrons in the circuit — which are the quantum bits of information, the qubits — started to behave according to the rules of quantum mechanics. The qubits became entangled. This means they become linked, sharing identical quantum states, even if physically separated from one other.

Specifically, the qubits in the sender circuit became entangled with those in the receiving circuit. The ETH team encoded some information into the qubits in the sending circuits and then measured of the state of the qubits in the receiver circuit. Whatever state the qubits had been in the sender was reflected instantly in the receiving circuit. The researchers had teleported the information.

This is different from the way information is sent in ordinary computers, electrons carry information along wires or through the air via radio waves. In this case, no bit of data physically traveled along a route — instead the information disappeared from one location and reappeared at another.

Other experimenters have teleported quantum bits, too, and have done so across a larger distance. But those teams only got the teleportation to work once in a while, perhaps a few percent of the time. The ETH team was also able to teleport up to 10,000 quantum bits every second, and get it to work right consistently. That’s fast enough and accurate enough to build a useful computer. “Basically we can push a button and have this teleportation work every time,” Andreas Wallraff, Professor at the Department of Physics and head of the study, told DNews.

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