Quantum Teleportation Enters the Real World

By Nathaniel Scharping | September 19, 2016 4:56 pm

(Credit: asharkyu/Shutterstock)

Two separate teams of scientists have taken quantum teleportation from the lab into the real world.

Researchers working in Calgary, Canada and Hefei, China, used existing fiber optics networks to transmit small units of information across cities via quantum entanglement — Einstein’s “spooky action at a distance.”

Stepping Outside the Lab

According to quantum mechanics, some objects, like photons or electrons, can be entangled. This means that no matter how far apart they are, what happens to one will affect the other instantaneously. To Einstein, this seemed ridiculous, because it entailed information moving faster than the speed of light, something he deemed impossible. But, numerous experiments have shown that entanglement does indeed exist. The challenge was putting it to use.

A few experiments in the lab had previously managed to send information using quantum entanglement. But translating their efforts to the real world, where any number of factors could confound the process is a much more difficult challenge. That’s exactly what these two teams of researchers have done. Their breakthrough, published in two separate papers today in Nature Photonics, promises to offer important advancements for communications and encryption technologies.

Both experiments encode a message into a photon and send it to a way station of sorts. There, the message is transferred to a different photon, which is entangled with a photon held by the receiver. This destroys the information held in the first photon, but transmits the information via entanglement to the receiver. When the way station measures the photon, it creates kind of key — a decoder ring of sorts — that can decrypt the entangled photon’s information. That key is then sent over an internet connection, where it is combined with the information contained within the entangled photon to reveal the message.

The two experiments weren’t able to transmit very much information — the Calgary experiment was the quickest, and they only managed 17 photons a minute. The Hefei experiment was able to guess the state of the photons with better accuracy, however. While the Calgary researchers succeeded about 25 percent of the time, the Hefei researchers were right at most 50 percent of the time, due to their inclusion of an extra, albeit time-consuming, step in the process. Because both methods possess their own advantages, they will likely each form the basis for further research.

Nevertheless, both teams were able to use existing telecommunications infrastructure to accomplish something that had only been done in the lab before — a big step forward. The Calgary team sent photons over a distance of about 4 miles, while the Hefei team spanned almost 9.

Beam Me Up Scotty?

This isn’t teleportation in the “Star Trek” sense — the photons aren’t disappearing from one place and appearing in another. Instead, it’s the information that’s being teleported through quantum entanglement. The teleportation moniker is used because the initial message sent is destroyed when the photon carrying it gets measured, and it is only the information that gets teleported from one place to another.

One of the largest hurdles for both teams to overcome was the tendency of fiber optic cables to stretch and compress due to temperature changes. While this doesn’t matter for regular telecommunications, for quantum communication, the photons that are sent must arrive at precisely the same time. Both teams of researchers used additional complex data inputs to ensure that their photons were arriving exactly the same as they started out.

Quantum teleportation over long distances has actually been accomplished before — in 2012, a team of researchers from Austria sent information almost 90 miles between two of the Canary Islands using lasers. Using lasers to send information can work in some situations, but adverse environmental conditions can disrupt the signal. This is why the internet today consists of a network of fiber optic cables instead.

Quantum teleportation’s biggest application will likely be as a means of encrypting information. Because the two photons communicate with each other by entanglement, there’s no way for an outsider to read them. To decrypt a message, you would need the key, which is sent over the internet. Even if you intercepted the key, you would still only have half of the puzzle — to fully read it, you would need the entangled photons themselves.

The process could even theoretically be used to create a network of quantum repeaters to stretch the networks capabilities between cities and countries, New Scientist writes. Someday, the same spooky action that frustrated Einstein could be delivering your emails.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Technology
  • Pat

    So… the encrypted message is being sent faster than light, but the key that is needed to decrypt that message is being sent at normal, slower than light speed?

    • Charaf

      Maybe you only need the key once, but after that you can transfer large amounts of data kinda instantaneously.

      • Nathanael Dale Ries

        No. Because the orientation is always changing. We have no way of knowing which change was random and which change was intentional. Additionally, we do not know what orientation of the spin particle A is until we observe particle A. We cannot tell the A particle to “stop” or “start” spinning, and we cannot tell it which way to spin, we can only observe its spin, then compare the spin of the observed particle B to ensure that they were indeed entangled. The inverse is also true, particle B’s spin is unknown until observed, but without knowing when the observation was made, we have no idea when to observe particle ‘A’ for legitimate data.

    • NDMA

      Maybe it’s all a funding-grab sham ; maybe it’s a new technology better than cell phones … Darn this uncertainty Mossad slavers breed : WW3 so the peasants no longer have to put up with pirate corruptions … hehe 😉 #FreePalestine

    • Michael Scott

      No, information can’t be transmitted between entangled particles. The entagled particles are being used to generate decryption keys, and the messages are being sent over normal means.

      Say you look at your entangled particles and it reads “dcba.” You then know for a fact that the other side reads the same, which we’ll call your key. You can encrypt your message with that key and trust that the other side has that key to use to decrypt your message. It is physically impossible for an outsider to intercept this key without irrevocably changing it, rendering it useless.

      This has great security applications, not applications in transmitting data instantaneously.

      • Gary Larson

        Very interesting! I have never even read a basic description of quantum entanglement before so this article, this question, and your comment go really well together.

      • Brook Jolley

        The article says exactly the opposite. The key is sent via internet, the data is contained in the photons and they’re decrypted with the key sent via internet. Since even if you have the key, if you don’t have the photons which you can’t know the place or time of their existence, you can’t ever use the key.

        • Fore_Cite

          whether you have the key or you have the data is the same result. the important thing is that the data flow is very limited using photons to transmit data (information larger than that needed for a key)

      • Lorenzo W

        But the way you describe it, it seems no better than a usual Tan generator….

        • Michael Scott

          Well a TAN is two-factor authentication, and this is encryption, which are two very different things. The TAN prevents an action from occurring without the token, because the token confirms identity.

          But regardless, the photon entanglement here is being used to generate keys so fragile that it’s impossible to Man in the Middle them and decrypt the messages encrypted by them.

          You don’t know what the state of the entangled photons is until you observe them, which destroys the entanglement. You know for certain at the time of measurement though that they share the same state, and that is your key. If an outsider managed to observe one of these photons, he would destroy the key, rendering decryption of the message impossible.

          This is different from, say, current RSA encryption which generates a public key and a private key on the receiver’s end. The message is encrypted with the public key and decrypted locally with the private key. If you somehow managed to get this private key, you could break the encryption. This is impossible with quantum entanglement encryption.

          TAN works because they provide a second layer of protection. They are not volatile at all, and they don’t need to be.

      • Lulu OrNot

        MS, you do a great job of making these ideas clear to me (yes, an ignorant slob), but isn’t a decryption key “information?”

        • Michael Scott

          When we say information in this context, we mean information that we generated in order to transmit. In this case, we don’t know what the key looks like until we measure it. However, we know for certain what we measured is the same on the other side.

  • Unfortunate Chimp

    25-50% success rate. Wow sign me up to that ISP, sounds great!

    • J Cover

      Better than Comcast…

    • ackley14

      actually, the way internet traffic works, that’s a better success rate than alot of data transfer. with wifi and problematic cables causing alot of interference, the ammount of data recieved in pristine condition by your computer is very small. to combat this, we have developed data latices that ensure if some part of the data is corrupted, a copy of it will be present to replace it. if the entire thing is unuseable, then a new copy is sent untill your computer tells the server that it got a good copy. the internet infrustructure we live with today is actually quite finicky, we just invented ways to get around this.

      note: this isn’t data transmition in the ISP sense, but rather encryption key transmission. its designed to make a crack-proof security system, making it impossible to intercept the key to the safe which makes it way too difficult to open said safe.

      • Daniel

        ackley14 is talking about the TCP protocol for anyone wondering.

        There are also other protocols that lacks these promises of correctness, the most popular is UDP.

  • http://patriceayme.wordpress.com Tyranosopher

    Quantum Entanglement is an aspect of the deepest, most spooky part of physics: the real architecture of the universe. It means part of here is there.

    • Hugh G. Rection

      This is my favorite comment of all time that doesn’t exist.

      • http://patriceayme.wordpress.com Tyranosopher

        Hi Hugh! I hope it is my comment which is most favorite! It seems you meant “that location does not exist”. 😉

        • Hugh G. Rection

          I was actually playing on the fact that time as we perceive it doesn’t actually exist.

    • http://motervation.wordpress.com/ Kevin Mote

      Einstein proved that Time is relative. QE seems to imply that Location is relative too.

      • Andrew

        Great comment, made me realise it! If time is relative and space and time are one (space time) then it stands to reason that space or location is also relative.

        • http://patriceayme.wordpress.com Tyranosopher

          Time is relative to relative speed (don’t ask what “relative” really means, because of ends with Mach and Newton’s pail experiment!). Time is also relative to potential (in practice gravitational) energy… However in Quantum Physics, time is NOT relative, but absolute (de facto).

      • http://patriceayme.wordpress.com Tyranosopher

        No offense meant, Kevin, but it is important to realize that the “LOCAL TIME” Theory (LTT) was named that way by Poincare’, putting the work of Lorentz in a new light. Einstein came much later… And ignored Poincare’ subtleties. However, Quantum Physics does not use time as it does space. Instead Quantum Physics uses time as a “One Parameter Group Of Transformations”. Moreover QE defines a sort of universal quantum time (UQT). UQT does not contradict Local Time Theory. It just introduces a new subtlety. Both UQT and LTT are demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt, both theoretically and experimentally.
        Patrice Ayme

        • Mike L

          Tyrano, you seem very knowledgeable… So distance, space, time and speed do not exist without points of matter… At least two points are needed for space to exist… distance requires a third point to measure relatively between the first two points. Time is introduced as the 4th dimension but cannot exist with just two points. So transmissions between two points can can happen without time as time is only introduced when a third point exists to measure the changes between three points and then relative speed. In other words, entanglement is two dimensional…. Speed is fourth dimensional. Entanglement is not faster than the speed of light… It pre-exists the speed of light. Makes sense? I actually have no real idea what I am trying to explain… Does anything I say make any sense to you? Help!

  • Marcin Skibiński

    Their breakthrough, published in two separate papers today in Nature Photonics.


  • NoobSighBot

    The clickbait in this article is real. This has nothing to do with teleportation, the moniker is nonsensical. This is just quantum encryption, the article heading is very misleading.

    • Hugh G. Rection

      Quantum entanglement is a form of teleportation, albeit not the typical sci-fi version.

      • NoobSighBot

        Uh… no. Quantum entanglement has zero to do with teleportation.

        • Hugh G. Rection

          Ok bud. Keep on keeping on.

  • DAMC

    (BIG YAWN) Where is my cup of coffee…

  • Abderrazzak Nejeoui

    great results with many application fields !

  • Peter Moore

    “This means that no matter how far apart they are, what happens to one will affect the other instantaneously.”
    Nitpicking here, but it would be more accurate to say, no matter how far apart they are, how you choose to measure one appears to affect the outcome of the same measurement of the other. No one knows – and it’s a topic of great debate even today – whether anything physical is being transmitted between the particles when they are measured, but because the correlation can never be perceived until information from both measurements is later compared, it seems likely that there is no actual effect being transmitted but, rather, there is something about the statistical relationships that our classical understanding of cause and effect and correlation can’t quite explain.

    Which is not to say the phenomenon isn’t real – it is, and it’s very cool.

    • http://patriceayme.wordpress.com Tyranosopher

      Something is transmitted (this has been checked experimentally by Zeilinger and Al. And it is theoretically clear.). But not in a way which enables message transmission. Or then, it is simply that location does not have a T2 topology (as I said).

      • Peter Moore

        As I said, it’s not clear anything physical is transmitted *at the time of the measurements*, because no useful communication occurs until after the measurements are correlated using some additional slower than light medium. Experiments have shown that if anything is transmitted at the time of measurement, it would have to be faster than light and in some cases backwards in time. No experiment I am aware of has proven something physical is actually transmitted faster than light or backwards in time. There are QM interpretations that posit this, but nothing has been proven to my knowledge. If you’re aware of some recent experiment proving this please send a link, I’d love to read it.

  • joseph2237

    17 photon a minute sounds like an 70s phone modem. Next is a longer string of data connected to 3d printer to transport objects. Next Rover going to Mars should have have an Entangled receiver to place on the planet.

    • Daniel Gelu

      For God sake, entaglement is not – and will not be never some instant communications, is just a proof encrypt system.

      • joseph2237

        God has nothing to do with it. The way we learn is very slow and by example. The cell phone is a good example of slow growth at least in the beginning. Take a transistor and say lets make it smaller unlit we have billions of them on a tiny chip. Yesterdays computer gave no clues of it’s potential and the same is true of entangled particles. Entangled particles tell us something about quantum space we are just starting to ask question about and modern experiments gives us the first clue that there is something more there.

  • DTP

    Not come across entanglement before. How do you know which 2 photons are entangled? Can you *make* them entangle? Surely the chances of stumbling across the entangled “partner” of one photon must be infinitessimally small unless you can control the entanglement? Either that or each entanglement actually involves a large proportion of all existant photons; in which case a 3rd party observer could simultaneously read and destroy the message for all other would-be observers…

  • Quenton farnes

    Teleportation isn’t the right word. I believe transmission is the word you’re looking for.

  • Vasiliu Mirel

    Quantum Physics is not relativistic so the transmission of information it’s normal to be instantaneous. There is experimental evidence about instantaneous transmission?

  • Jody McAllister Mahar

    I am full of quantum emotions about this new development… but no one will know. Or will they?

  • antonio carlos motta

    The deformatiom of spacetime, it is the spacetime topological geometry create shapes different of the curvatures of spscetime, is the space deforming on itself.then the quantum entanglement connections with differents of speed of light without violate causality.the 4dimensional structures with topology smooth , but not all.with this have exotics structures with exoticmstructures in fourthbdimension, that is generated by the discreteness, that isnthe asymmetry of left handed and roght handed, being restored im higher dimensions

  • antonio carlos motta

    For obtain the quamtum entanglements connection need the deformation on the spacetime for model the shapes of the particles depending of the quantum topological geometry, where the 4dimensional manifolds with auto intersections thst create the particles of the geometry, generating discreteness of the spacetime, it is the granular spacetime with imfinities shapes digferents vibrating on differents frequencies

  • Stu Kriegermeier

    This experiment confirms, again, that the 5th dimension actually does exist, and that this can be experimentally verified. Einstein is still correct that nothing, not even information, can travel through 4D spacetime at a velocity faster than c. This experiment shows that the information, then, must travel through the 5th Dimension. Awesome.

  • Stu Kriegermeier

    This experiment confirms, yet again, that the 5th dimension actually exisits and that this can be verified experimentally. Einstein’s Special Relativity is still correct, that nothing, not even informaiton, can travel through 4D spacetime faster than c. What this experiment verifies, is that the information, must therefore, travel through the 5th dimension. This is awesome.

  • Velimir Ikalovic

    We often tend to omit one thing. Before “spooky” happens between Photon P and Photon P’, P’ have to travel to remote destination first. And that travel is limited by speed of light. So the information can’t go there instantly after all.
    Or, maybe I didn’t understand it right. Entanglement is happening when photons are near each other, right?

  • Alan

    Imagine an ant walking on a piece of paper. He pokes a hole in the paper and magically, on the opposite side of the paper, a hole appears. It would normally take many seconds for the ant to walk all the way around the other side of the paper to communicate with the ants over there. Has he invented faster than ant walking communications? In a practical sense, yes, but the message isn’t actually traveling faster. From the perspective of the entangled photons, they aren’t really separated in terms of their state, even though the photons are physically far apart in terms of normal space. This IS a big deal, as transporting information is what we really care about, not mass.



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