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Depending on your favorite sci-fi yarns, teleportation is either a very, very bad idea (see: The Fly) or a very, very cool one (see: Star Trek). For scientists, it's just very, very complex, so much so that at this point, teleportation is not a matter of moving matter but one of transporting information. Already, physicists have been able to exchange information between light particles — or photons — or between atoms, so long as they were right next to each other.
The current experiment marks the first in which information has traveled a significant distance — 1 m, or a little more than 3 ft. — between two isolated atoms. It's also the first time the powers of a photon, which is good at traveling over long distances, and an atom, which is prized for its ability to retain information, have been jointly exploited. (See the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2008.)
Though the technology appears to straddle the line between science and science fiction, the era of quantum teleportation has arrived. It's not the Star Trek--style beaming up of entire landing parties; the process operates at the subatomic level. What does that mean? Quantum teleportation, in short, is the transmission of characteristics--that is, the quantum state of a particular photon, or particle of light--from one place to another. While it falls short of a capability to beam people or objects to remote locations, it's much more than just sending a fax.
The original is destroyed, but every one of its distinguishing features is re-created elsewhere. Researchers believe quantum teleportation will someday translate into many breakthrough applications ranging from uncrackable encryption methods to quantum computers that will run billions of times faster than today's fastest machines.
The original is destroyed, but every one of its distinguishing features is re-created elsewhere.