WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.--Professor of Physics William Wootters' prediction of "quantum teleportation" has progressed from science fiction to reality. A team of Austrian scientists report in a recent issue of Nature magazine that they have teleported a physical property from one particle of light to another one, without a physical connection.
Although the discovery has nothing to do with beaming people from one place to another, it does form the first step in the creation of "quantum computers," and may provide a new means of encrypting messages and storing information about unstable entities such as atoms that are just about to decay.
Perhaps the greatest importance of the experiment and related research is to explore the quantum paradoxes that Einstein once derided as "spooky action at a distance."
Four years before the Austrian team began their experiments, Wootters and five other scientists wrote a paper claiming that teleportation is theoretically possible. Once the scientists started studying the question, the idea arose "remarkably fast," claimed Wootters. "It only took about a day to formulate the basic idea."
Quantum teleportation was considered impossible before the publication of this 1993 paper because the quantum state of any particle is "collapsed" by the act of measuring it. Wootters and his colleagues bypassed this problem through a technique called an end-run, which measures only part of a given particle's quantum state, thereby avoiding a complete collapse.
The quantum part of the end run is based on a pair of "entangled" particles, which are always predestined to assume opposite states whenever a measurement of one of them occurs. They're made by taking one photon and converting it into a pair that fly off in opposite directions. If you find a way to impose a specific quantum state on one member of an entangled pair of photons, then you instantly impose a predetermined quantum state on the other distant member of the entangled pair. That's quantum teleportation.
Wootters came to Williams in 1982 from University of Texas at Austin and has taught most of the courses in the physics curriculum, although he specializes in quantum mechanics. According to physicist David Park, Wootters is known for "finding interesting things for students to think about."
Wootters earned his B.S. from Stanford in 1973 and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Texas at Austin in 1980.
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