Quantum leap: University physicists successfully teleport a photon, bringing us closer to a more powerful internet

A team of physicists, including researchers from the University of Calgary, have managed to teleport a photon (a particle of light) over a distance of six kilometres using fibre optic cable infrastructure.

The group, led by Wolfgang Tittel, a professor in the university’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, set a new record for distance of transferring a quantum state by teleportation.

The experiment makes use of a phenomenon in quantum mechanics known as entanglement, a mysterious property that even perplexed Albert Einstein, who called it “spooky action at a distance”.

“Being entangled means that the two photons that form an entangled pair have properties that are linked regardless of how far the two are separated,” explained Tittel, as quoted by the university’s newspaper, UToday.

In the experiment, which was made possible with the help of the City of Calgary and researchers from the United States, the researchers created two entangled photons and sent one to Calgary City Hall, while the other remained at the university.

A third photon was also sent to the City Hall from another site, which was then transferred to the photon that was still at the university through quantum teleportation, thanks to entanglement.

So what does this mean for the future of the internet?

Tittel said that the group’s experiment used a configuration that could serve as the benchmark for useful city-based quantum networks.

“Such a network will enable secure communication without having to worry about eavesdropping, and allow distant quantum computers to connect,” he added.

A separate team based in China also conducted a similar study: researchers from the University Of Science And Technology Of China used a different set-up to achieve quantum teleportation over a 30km optical fibre network in the city of Hefei in Anhui province.

The findings from both teams were published in the Nature Photonics scientific journal recently.

In the same issue, quantum information researcher Frédéric Grosshans from the Université Paris-Sud in Orsay, France, said: “Undoubtedly many interesting quantum information experiments in the future will be built on this work.

“For the longer term, the two papers demonstrate that the possibility of quantum networks that span a city is a realistic proposition, which is an exciting vision for the future.”

Now, before you get all excited and think that human teleportation (like we’ve seen in Star Trek) isn’t too far off, we’ve got to break the bad news: according to Tittel, there is still no known way to transfer matter.

“It’s certainly not going to happen anytime soon,” he told Calgary Herald.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

However, Tittel does believe that once quantum computers are made a reality (he estimates we’re still around 10 to 20 years off from that), they will have a great impact not only on communications, but how things are built and manufactured.

Image via Riley Brandt/University of Calgary

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