What if you could instantly transport yourself from one place to another? Instead of circling the same old neighborhood, you could walk the streets of Shanghai, China. Instead of eating the same old takeout for dinner, you could dine in Paris, France. You could even visit the moon or the rings of Saturn.
Science fiction characters have been using teleportation to get around for decades. But of course, that’s just made up … or is it?
Teleportation is very real. But it’s not the kind that appears in science fiction. Real-life teleportation uses the principles of quantum physics, a set of rules that describe the strange behavior of photons, electrons, and other minuscule particles that make up the universe. In the quantum world, the regular rules of the universe don’t apply: Bits of matter can bop in and out of existence. Particles act sometimes like solid clumps and other times like waves.
One of the strangest phenomena in the quantum world is called quantum entanglement. When two particles are “entangled,” it doesn’t mean that they’re twisted around one another. Instead, it means that the actions of one affect the actions of the other.
In the lab, scientists have learned how to entangle two particles, then deliberately change one of them. When they do, the other particle will instantly change, too—even if the two particles are far apart. In 2017, Chinese scientists used this principle to “teleport” information from one particle on Earth to another on a satellite in space.
The Chinese experiment might seem nothing like teleportation. But consider this: It means information was transmitted faster than the speed of light, thought to be the speed limit of the universe. In quantum teleportation, a bit of information goes from one particle to another without physically passing between them. It moves in an instant, without traveling.
Of course, there’s a big difference between sending a chunk of information hopping from one spot to another and sending a human being. In theory, it could be possible to analyze the state of every atom in a person’s body and transmit it to a new location, where the person could be reassembled atom by atom.
But the human body contains around seven billion billion billion atoms. We have nowhere near the processing power to handle all that data. Yet some scientists believe that nothing in the laws of physics says human teleportation is impossible. Maybe we just have to wait for the future to unlock this transportation riddle.
Where would you go if you could teleport?
Excerpted from Nat Geo Kids’ Ultimate Book of the Future by Stephanie Warren Drimmer