A group of physicists have recently explored the possibility of creating quantum computers. These are electronic devices that harness the power of quantum mechanics to very rapidly transfer data, using a process akin to teleportation, but within circuitry. So, are we close to realizing the Star Trek dream?
The physicists, who work for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (A.K.A. ETH) have managed to successfully teleport data within an electronic device, similar in nature to a standard computer chip. Ordinarily, fabricated computer chips spread information by dispatching electrons along their infinitesimal circuitry, but must be physically displaced from one region to the next. In stark contrast, however, the group’s recent study relied upon quantum mechanics to communicate information from two different points, without the requirement for electrons to travel any of these distances.
The technique implemented is something called quantum entanglement, and does not require a physical object carrying information to a receiver. Quantum entanglement only allows passage of the information, and does not require some form of information hauler, typically making the process much more efficient.
Quantum entanglement is the interaction, and subsequent separation, between two different particles. Before the interface, the particles each possess their own quantum state. After the interface, however, both particles also share a quantum state. The ETH Life website refers to this entanglement as a “‘magic’ link” between the two different particles. According to ETH Life, professor Andreas Wallraff, the lead author of the study, which was published in Nature, elaborated on the nature of the quantum phenomenon:
“Quantum teleportation is comparable to beaming as shown in the science fiction series Star Trek… The information does not travel from point A to point B. Instead, it appears at point B and disappears at point A, when read out at point B.”
But how is this dream of “Star Trek” beaming achieved, specifically in the teleportation of data in electronic circuitry?
The first step was creating the entangled state between a “sender” and a “receiver.” Once the two parties are entangled, they are then separated a short distance, whilst maintaining their entangled relationship.
The transmission of the data then takes place between the two points of separation on the small chip; from a “sender” point to a “receiver” point. A this stage, the group then applied some quantum information at the sender side of the chip and, due to the quantum entanglement, the receiver side can immediately decipher the information.
This also improves the sheer amount of data that can be dispatched, which is far superior to that witnessed using other, more conventional, approaches. The chip distance was only approximately 6 millimeters, which initially doesn’t seem like a particularly big feat in the world of teleportation. However, this is the first time quantum mechanics has been shown in electronic components and could have massive implications for the construction of quantum computers, with data output of ten thousand quantum bits of information each second. Quantum bits have advantages of over normal computer bits, in that they withhold more information, and this data can be assimilated far more efficiently.
Obviously, with such a short distance of communication in these electronic circuits, this quantum device is severely limited. The group plan to remedy this issue by expanding this distance, in concert with attempts to use quantum entanglement to teleport information on a chip-to-chip basis. So, even though it doesn’t seem that this discovery will herald a Star Trek-esque revolution in the field of teleportation, we are at least one step closer to realizing quantum computers.
By: James Fenner