Tuesday, February 17, 2015

I’ll Beam Right Over

The latest iteration of Star Trek movies have a
pretty cool transporter signature. The original
was kind of goofy with speckles and blue light.
But the question remains, what about
teletransporting requires the sounds effects?
One of the most iconic pieces of technology from Star Trek was actually a compromise. It was also the reason why the third episode made was shown first. Originally, Gene Roddenberry wanted the Enterprise, or a shuttle craft, to land on a planet’s surface each time there was the need for an away team.

But that was a budget buster (sets, models, etc.). They had to think of a cheaper way of getting crew members down to a planet and back the ship. Voila – the transporter. How did it change the order of the first season? The third episode (The Man Trap) began with Kirk and cohorts transporting down to the planet surface. By showing this first, they didn’t have to go to the time and effort of explaining the transporter – you just saw just what it was for and how it worked.

Star Trek’s transporter moved stuff, animate or inanimate, from one place to another, without them every being located anywhere between the two points. The matter was converted to energy and this was moved at the speed of light (or similar) to the destination. Once there, the matter was reassembled into the object again.

Well…. That’s one way it might have worked. It might also be that the information about the object was transmitted from one place to the destination, and the object was built from atoms at that location. This second possibility is kind of like faxing –

Faxing has been around for years, it got its start with the work of Captain Richard Howland Ranger (from Indianapolis, by the way) transmitting pictures via telegraph in 1924. The picture was one place, and then it was reproduced in another place. If you destroyed the first, then that would be like a Star Trek transporter. But there are problems to solve before we get to the destruction issue.

Triangulation works in many systems. On the left
is how the police can locate a cell phone by the
cell towers that bounce the signal. With just two,
the overlap is two places, , but the third eliminates
one of the two possibilities. It’s the same with GPS.
Three satellites are need to locate a person or thing
on the face of the Earth.
The first question in transporting a person to a specific location is honing in on that location. You need a way to define a single point in space. Here we have made great strides. It’s called the global positioning satellite (GPS) system.

GPS uses a system of 30 satellites in geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. Any one point on the planet can be located using a GPS locator at that point. It will triangulate the distance to each of three of the satellites and this will define the point where the locator is. A signal is sent from the locator to the satellites and the time is measured for the signal to return. Time and speed are used to calculate distance.

In space, defining a certain point would take more than 30 satellites - try millions. Untenable at best, impossible more likely - a different method is needed. Each solar system could have a different coordinate system, using the central star as the 0,0,0 point. Then any point at a given time could be defined by directions x, and y, and a distance z from the 0,0,0 point.

Going from solar system to solar system will be even harder, so the science of astrometry has developed things like the International Celestial Reference System (ICRS). It's not easy to explain, but suffice it to say our Star Trek transporter officer will have to be pretty darn good at math.

In the first two movies about flies and transporters,
the result was a switching of parts. In the 1986 film
with Jeff Goldblum, the fly and the scientist were
merged into one being. In Star Trek, they overcame
this problem with pattern separators to keep
peoples’ information separate and biofilters to
destroy infections agents and such.
Now that you have a way to beam someone to infinity and beyond, how do you bring them back? Star Trek used a pattern lock – they tracked those they transported so that they would have their position at all time. This way, they could beam them back from wherever they were; they didn’t have to go back to the same spot at which they arrived.

Now we come to the crux of the transporting problem. Can you send an object from one place to another without it ever being anywhere in between? It’s not like sending something by microwave pulse, by optical cable and light pulse, or even by radio wave. You can follow those pulses of information from one place to another or even intercept them at some point along the way.

For teletransporting, the object needs to be here…. and then be there. Can we do that? Yes and not yet. Yes for information and energy, not yet for matter. What we have been able to send is information about certain electrons, photons of light, or atoms. The information is their quantum states (like in relativity and quantum mechanics). Quantum states define the unique characteristics of a particle in terms of its energy.

Quantum entanglement is indeed spooky. When
two particles come near one another, they become
linked. Because two particles CANNOT have the
same quantum numbers, one will always have the
opposite values of the other for each characteristic.
Then, no matter how far apart, when one switches,
so will the other.
Sending the information to another place allows the scientists to then create that same quantum state for a photon, etc. at a different point in space. In reality, you just sent that particle (and all its information) to a different place. What makes this possible? Quantum entanglement – what Einstein called spooky action at a distance.

If one particle ever has a relationship (trades energy or even bumps into) another particle, their quantum states are linked (entangled) forever. Change the states of one, and the states of the other will automatically changes as well. This occurs even if they are very far from one another at a later time. This is how information and energy of the particles can be sent from one place to another, but never exist in between.

Many recent papers have shown the progress we have made in sending quantum information and energy from place to place. A recent distance record was set for sending a photon of light – 143 km. This is important because that's about the distance from Earth to low flying satellites, so beaming quantum information could help in communications. Also, improvements have been made in amplifying the signal without losing entanglement.

The principal reason for all this research is to develop quantum computing not a transporter. Regular computing uses 1’s and 0’s; using quantum information would allow for a bit being a 1 and 0 at the same time! With quantum computing you could solve huge mathematical problems where variables could be in multiple states, or do millions of problems all at once, using a small number of qubits (quantum bits). In fact, a computer of just thirty qubits would have the same processing power of a 10 teraflop (trillions of operations per second) classical computer. Your laptop runs about 10,000-100,000 times slower than that.

Scientists recently made a 10,000 qubit “circuit board” in a demonstration, and another group showed how single photons could be used as routers on a circuit board to send information different ways. Maybe quantum computers aren’t so far off.

Mike Teavee was the first person sent by television
in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He was sent from
one place to the other with a receiver needed to stop
the signal and interpret it. The biggest problem for
Star Trek teleportation is that there is no receiver to
stop the signal and reassemble the person. Ever try to
get a light beam to stop at a certain place on its own?
You see the problem.
So, can quantum teleportation and quantum computing be used for transporting people or macroscopic objects? Maybe. Matter is just energy in a different form (E=mc2, there's Einstein again). Each atom in your body can be defined in terms of its position and its quantum states, so maybe we could harness all that information into a pattern (like on Star Trek).

Every person is made up of about 1029 particles, each with multiple elements of quantum information. That's a whole bunch of information to transport. It might be necessary to invent quantum computing in order to transfer the massive amount of information needed to transport a human being to another place. Of course, this means that we are accepting our second description of transporting from above - sending just the information and building a new person at the destination point based on the defined quantum states of their every atom. Only quantum computing could manage that trick.

But what do you do with the first version of the person being transported? Would they be destroyed while obtaining their pattern? The first one would have to be destroyed or there would be two of them. Nobody wants two Dr. McCoy's around to complain twice as much about their atoms being scattered all over the galaxy. But wouldn't it be murder to get rid of the original? I like the idea of transporting both the information and the atoms; no crime committed there.

Next week, how close are we coming to making a cloaking device, and would we know it if we did? We couldn't see it.

Contributed by Mark E. Lasbury, MS, MSEd, PhD

Filippov, S., & Ziman, M. (2014). Entanglement sensitivity to signal attenuation and amplification Physical Review A, 90 (1) DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevA.90.010301

Ma, X., Herbst, T., Scheidl, T., Wang, D., Kropatschek, S., Naylor, W., Wittmann, B., Mech, A., Kofler, J., Anisimova, E., Makarov, V., Jennewein, T., Ursin, R., & Zeilinger, A. (2012). Quantum teleportation over 143 kilometres using active feed-forward Nature, 489 (7415), 269-273 DOI: 10.1038/nature11472

Shomroni, I., Rosenblum, S., Lovsky, Y., Bechler, O., Guendelman, G., & Dayan, B. (2014). All-optical routing of single photons by a one-atom switch controlled by a single photon Science, 345 (6199), 903-906 DOI: 10.1126/science.1254699

Yokoyama, S., Ukai, R., Armstrong, S., Sornphiphatphong, C., Kaji, T., Suzuki, S., Yoshikawa, J., Yonezawa, H., Menicucci, N., & Furusawa, A. (2013). Ultra-large-scale continuous-variable cluster states multiplexed in the time domain Nature Photonics, 7 (12), 982-986 DOI: 10.1038/nphoton.2013.287

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