A quantum physics breakthrough could turn pipe dreams, such as ultra-high-speed quantum computers and teleportation, into real-world technologies.
Eugene Polzik and his coresearchers at Denmark’s University of Aarhus have managed to raise the mysterious concept of quantum entanglement?a link between two or more particles that have no physical contact?to an unprecedented scale. The team gathered two clouds of cesium gas, each containing about a trillion atoms, into separate, sealed vessels. They then shined a laser through both clouds. For a split second, the clouds became entangled, and magnetic changes in one instantly affected the other. The previous entanglement record was a mere four atoms.
The development could lead to the creation of computers and communications networks that operate much faster than anything that’s available today, says Peter Handel, a physics professor at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. “Information encoded in photons could be transmitted to places without sending them across space,” he says. Quantum entanglement could also allow matter to be transported from one location to another by instantly duplicating the properties of one object in another place.
Other researchers, however, are skeptical about quantum entanglement’s sci-fi aspects. “You can’t transfer information faster than the speed of light, that’s an immutable law of physics,” warns Randall Hulet, a physics and astronomy professor at Rice University in Houston. Yet Hulet is confident that quantum science will eventually be able to provide tangible IT benefits. “Quantum mechanics’ promise lies in things like unbreakable codes and computers that run exponentially faster by operating in multiple states rather than step-by-step,” he says. “Quantum entanglement is significant, but it’s also important not to get carried away by things.”