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Author: Melinda Sherwood. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 15, 2000. All rights reserved.

Weird Science

There is a branch of science that deals with the

stranger,

spookier side of the physical world — things like antimatter,

parallel universes, even "teleportation." It’s called quantum

mechanics — the study of matter’s smallest parts — and it

challenges some of our most basic assumptions about science. So

strange is the quantum world that even Albert Einstein, the

physicist who defied the establishment with his theory of time travel,

refuted it, unable to embrace its implications. "God," he

announced, "doesn’t play dice with the Universe."

At a lab at the Army Research Office in Research Triangle Park, North

Carolina, scientists have proved otherwise. Physicists there have

actually demonstrated teleportation — moving information from

one spot to another seemingly magically. It’s a feat no one would

have imagined doing five years ago, says Henry Everitt, program

manager of the Army Research Office, who will participate in the

Sarnoff

Symposium on communications technology Wednesday, March 22. "This

isn’t science fiction," he says. "Two years ago a lab in

Austria

did it, and we’ve done it here in the United States. In a sense it’s

the Star Trek equivalent to beaming, but it isn’t like tele-porting

information from Los Angeles to New York. It’s more like from one

end of an eight foot table to another."

Still, it’s enough to trivialize fussing over bandwidth. If

teleportation

is possible today, one can only imagine how the telecommunications

industry could use it in a few more decades, says Everitt. "This

is hot stuff," he says. "It’s rare that a new science

breakthrough

has such clear national security and commercial impact. People in

Lucent and Bell Labs are very interested in it. All people who do

communications are interested in seeing how this works."

Teleportation will be one of the more unusual subjects explored at

this year’s Sarnoff Symposium, a conference that hosts experts from

GTS, COMSAT, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Lucent, AIL Systems, CECOM, and

Sarnoff to discuss cutting-edge technologies in the communications

industry. The conference is held on Wednesday, March 22, at the

College

of New Jersey from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Call 609-734-2629.

At 10:30 a.m. Everitt chairs a discussion of quantum communications

with IBM’s Charles Bennett, a pioneer in the field of

teleportation

and quantum cryptography. Other workshops: Technologies for the

Communications

Revolutions (8:30 a.m.), Advances in Satellite Communications (8:30

a.m.), Advances in Optical Communications (10:30 a.m.), Advanced

Components

for Communications (1:30 p.m.), Third Generation Wireless Technologies

(1:30 p.m.), Digital Receiver Technology (3:30 p.m.), and Smart

Antennas

(3:30 p.m.).

Exhibiting companies include Agilent Technologies Inc., Applied Wave

Research, Cadence Design Systems, CBD Enterprises Inc., EMC

Technology,

Hybrid Tek, In-Phase Technology, Princeton Electronic Systems Inc.,

Raytheon RF Components, Sarnoff, Sonnet Software Inc., SWR Tech/RF

Electronics Sales, Technical Marketing Associates, Three-E Labs, and

UTE Microwave Inc., among others.

The process of teleportation, in the simplest terms, hinges on a

connection between two messenger photons, or "entangled

photons,"

that are somehow "psychically" connected due to their

polarization.

In the experiment, a laser sends out a pair of these entangled

photons,

one to Point A and one to Point B. Another laser sends an

"information"

photon to Point A only, where entangled photon and information photon

become combined and eventually destroyed. In the meantime, however,

the entangled photon at Point B has managed to "read" the

information photon that was combined with its "psychic

partner"

at Point A.

That’s teleportation. "It’s hard to believe," says Everitt,

"but people have separated photons that are entangled by more

than 40 kilometers and showed that this spooky entangled stuff is

still there."

It’s unlikely, however, that any of us will ever get to say "Beam

Me Up," in our lifetime. Teleportation has its hitches, says

Everitt, who has a PhD in physics from Duke University, Class of 1990,

and one of them is that only information — not matter — can

be tele-ported. It’s also important to note that information does

not "travel" from one place to another — it merely

disappears

and appears elsewhere.

"It isn’t like taking a car with a piece of information on your

front seat from one place to another," says Everitt. "You

see the message disappear at one end of the table and appear at the

other end." Accordingly, information at Point A must be destroyed

in order for it to arrive at Point B — it can’t be copied.

"One

of the things they used to say about Star Trek is why can’t you beam

up 10 copies of Captain Kirk," says Everitt, "but it’s a

fundamental

law of quantum mechanics that you can’t clone information."

In the most immediate sense, teleportation signifies the dawn of

a new age in computing. "Teleportation is a building block towards

building a quantum computer," says Everitt, "which could do

things that your computer can’t do now."

Among its potential applications: Creating and/or breaking

cryptographic codes used by the banking industry and defense industry

to protect information on the Internet. For the conventional computer,

such a feat might take millions of years. For the quantum computer, it

would take a matter of minutes. "If we can build such a

computer," says Everitt, "it isn’t going to replace the PC. It

would only be useful for a small class of problems."

Everitt calls these the "traveling salesman problem:" if a

salesman is traveling to a number of different cities, what is the

most logical route for him to take? "As it turns out," says

Everitt, "that’s a problem that many industries faces, such as

airlines — getting the most passengers on the fewest number of

planes — or in the telecommunications industry — getting the

highest number of calls on the fewest number of lines. In other words,

utilizing limited resources optimally. A quantum computer could do

that much faster than a classical computer."

Although the federal government is contributing significantly more

money to the U.S. military’s study of quantum computing and

teleportation

now than in 1995, studies in quantum mechanics and computing haven’t

become a national security issue yet, says Everitt. "It’s not

a Manhattan Project or Moon Race," he says. "In fact, we’re

welcoming all the help we can get overseas. My job is to take emerging

science and shepherd it. I can’t imagine how many Nobel prizes are

going to come out of this. It’s attracted the best and brightest to

the field of physics. We’re at the point where it’s looking pretty

good."

— Melinda Sherwood


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