Chinese scientists set new record for quantum teleportation

15 July 2017

Chinese scientists claim to have "teleported" a photon particle from the ground to a satellite orbiting 1,400km (870 miles) away.

For most people teleportation is stuff from science fiction. But according to commentators, science fiction might become a reality, even though transporting people on a beam of light is not likely to happen anytime soon.

In 2010, a team at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai set a record by teleporting photons over 60 miles on Earth. And now, just seven years later, they have teleported protons from a ground station in Tibet, 4km above sea level, to a satellite orbiting Earth a little over 480km away.

In simple terms, teleportation is about transmitting the state of a thing rather than sending the thing itself.

Some physicists cite the fax machine by way of an analogy. The machine sends information about the marks on a piece of paper rather than the paper itself. The receiving fax machine receives the information and applies it to raw material in the form of paper that was already there.

What it was not was the Star Trek version - transferring matter instantly from one location to another, which is the way many instinctively see it.

Rather it relies on a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement, which arises when two particles are created at the same time and place and so effectively have the same existence.

This entanglement continues even with the separation of photons and means that if one of the photons changes, the other photon in the other location changes too.

"Entangled particles have a weird connection," professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University, Brian Greene told NPR's David Greene. "[Albert] Einstein called it 'spooky action.' Whatever you do to the photon on Earth immediately affects the photon on the satellite.

The two spookily connected photons could be used to essentially teleport a third one with different properties from earth to the photon in space.

This was the farthest distance of quantum entanglement recorded. Also the connection so created was theoretically unhackable, which meant in the future people could use it to securely transport information.

"There is a security issue here," professor Greene says, "because the first country to build a quantum computer or a quantum Internet, they will be able to send effectively unhackable messages. And then they can use the technology to try to hack into more conventional messages."

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