Researchers at the University of Calgary have demonstrated a principle in physics that even Einstein himself called “spooky action at a distance.” They have done so with an experiment of elegant simplicity, even though the concept seems seriously dense to the layperson (i.e. me!).
Basically, the team — headed by Professor Wolfgang Tittel and made up of postdoctoral fellows in the Physics department — has achieved teleportation of the properties of a tiny particle of light, to another particle 6.2 kilometers away, without an object having to move through the space between them.
This is a real world demonstration of a quantum principle — that observing a particle’s quantum state changes it. The team used particles that were “entangled,” that is, connected in such a way that their properties mirror each other.
“The U of C team used a specialized laser to create a pair of entangled photons — elementary particles of light — and sent one to Calgary City Hall via a dedicated fibre-optic line while keeping the other in their lab at the university in the city’s northwest.
At the same time, a third photon was sent to city hall from another location (a data centre in the southeast community of Manchester) so that it would meet and interact with the entangled photon.
‘We had to make sure it arrived at the same time at city hall as the photon that was created at the data centre,’ said Tittel.”
The whole thing was a delicate operation, as the fibre-optic line could be affected by the weather, and even the slightest resulting mis-timing could have sunk the experiment. But it worked, and the team reported their findings in the same issue of Nature Photonics as a team from China, who succeeded in proving the same principle with a different experiment.
For me, the coolest fact is that the fibre-optic line used in the Calgary experiment was actually part of City Hall’s regular infrastructure — they just loaned it to the University for their amazing uses! This means humanity could be on the cusp of a functional “quantum internet,” a hypothetical method of exchanging information that is faster and more secure, and could change the way we live our lives fundamentally. It’s only a matter of time (and space).