Beam me up…

Instead of enduring hours sitting at airports and in aeroplanes (complete with passengers in front of you who recline their seats forty-eight milliseconds after the fasten seatbelts sign goes out, grrrr), wouldn’t it be nice if Star Trek transporter technology actually existed. Just step onto the pad, select your destination (better check it carefully first), and their you are, assuming no flies jump onto the pad at the same time (link for those who don’t get the joke.)

Well, technically speaking, it is possible, but don’t hold your breath about seeing it anytime soon,  unless you are an atom. Physicists have been successful at teleporting individual atoms for some time now. What that means in practice, is that the exact ‘state’ of a particular atom at place ‘A’ is transferred onto an atom at place ‘B’, in other words, the atom at place ‘B’ is in all ways the same as the original at place ‘A’. This exploits a bizarre quantum phenomenon called ‘entaglement’, in which it is possible to prepare two atoms (or electrons) who somehow intimately know what each other are doing, while at the same time being separated. I won’t attempt to explain the details (partly because I struggle with the maths at this point), but I am assured that it does work. The state of the atom you had a point A is, in every way, transferred to the atom at point A.

Just scale-up the procedure from one atom to a collection of atoms (i.e. a person), and you have a genuine Starship Enterprise transporter. How cool would that be? This scale-up is, unfortunately, beyond our means at the moment. But I think the most interesting question is, if you were teleported in this manner, would the construction of you at the other end, actually be you. It might look like you, but would it just be a ‘copy’ of the original (which, by the way gets irreversibly changed in the process)?

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