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You are in: Cooltech  > Coolscience

Teleportation: Beam me up, Scotty?
Posted Mon, 10 May 2004

Teleportation always used to seem so simple. All it took was a quick call to Mr Scott, and Star Trek's Captain Kirk would be beamed up from the cheap-looking scenery of some alien planet and materialise on the Starship Enterprise.

These days it's all about lasers, subatomic particles and very hard sums, but one Australian research team's world-beating discoveries in the field seem almost as far-fetched as the science fiction version.

The multinational group from Canberra's Australian National University (ANU) have become the first on this particular planet to demonstrate the sharing of secrets via teleportation using quantum physics.

Making it tougher for cybercriminals

Who cares? Well, a lot of big businesses, because their discovery has moved unbreakable codes, superfast computers and communications inaccessible to cybercriminals a step closer.

What the team's find boils down to is that, using a laser, they can teleport to a network of recipients a signal which can only be reassembled by a majority of the recipients. Any less and the signal cannot be reconstituted.

The team's leader, Chinese-born Ping Koy Lam, was building on work done by the university in 2002, when they teleported information using a laser beam.

But Ping described the latest achievement as "a much more complex form of information teleportation in the sense that it involves multiple recipients".

Defining teleportation

Teleportation is defined as the production, disembodiment and successful reconstruction of a signal, which in this case was a high frequency sound to three participants. The message in the future may be spoken or typed.

The researchers used crystals, lenses and mirrors to produce a pair of "entangled" laser beams that are then used to carry fragile information in the form of quantum states.

"These quantum states cannot be measured or copied, making eavesdropping impossible," Lance said in a statement released by the university.

"The transmission of the light beams constitutes a secret communication scheme with guaranteed security."

The process of secret sharing is said to be a fundamental part of present day telecommunication, computer and banking practices.

Quantum state sharing

"Such network communication can be enhanced using the laws of quantum physics to protect the information, a process called quantum state sharing.

"The benefit of this technology is that the encrypted message can only be decoded by a majority of recipients.

"For example, if an encrypted message was sent to a spy network containing 15 individuals, a minimum of eight agents would be needed to access the message — limiting the chances of the message being infiltrated or deleted by a double-agent."

The ANU team spent more than a year working through their theory, which has been published in scientific journal Physical Review Letters, then proving it worked on a large tabletop apparatus, involving multiple lasers, mirrors, lenses and computers in the optics laboratory.

Attracting attention

The work was performed at the ANU by Chinese-born Ping Koy Lam, Belgian post-doctoral researcher Thomas Symul and Australian doctoral student Andrew Lance in collaboration with professor Barry Sanders of Canada's University of Calgary.

"Beam me up Scotty" it ain't. But the team says it is likely to attract attention from the defence and finance industries, eager to secure their secret transmissions.

They also claim it has potential to significantly enhance the security of computer systems and lead to computers infinitely faster than those of today.

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