How Calgary researchers solved a quantum conundrum using city hall and a photon

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Quantum conundrum solved at U of C
Dr. Wolfgang Tittel, University of Calgary manages to teleport photons, paving way for quantum Internet. Please credit the University of Calgary, Riley Brandt for the photo usage. /Postmedi

It’s a quantum quandary that’s been cracked by researchers at the University of Calgary.

The team of physicists led by Wolfgang Tittel have managed to teleport a photon (a light particle) some six kilometres at the speed of light along fibre-optic lines in Calgary, a new distance record that landed them in the prestigious science journal Nature Photonics alongside a simultaneous study by researchers in China.

The mind-bending experiment essentially transfers the quantum state of the photon — along with any information encoded within it — to a different location using the scientific principle of entanglement, a theory even Albert Einstein struggled with, calling it “spooky action at a distance.”

In the experiment, a photon was sent to city hall, while also generating at a third location in the city, where it travelled downtown to meet the entangled photon.

“Being entangled means that the two photons that form an entangled pair have properties that are linked regardless of how far the two are separated,” Tittel said.

“When one of the photons was sent over to city hall, it remained entangled with the photon that stayed at the University of Calgary.

“What happened is the instantaneous and disembodied transfer of the photon’s quantum state onto the remaining photon of the entangled pair, which is the one that remained six kilometres away at the university.”

Tittel said the transfer of data destroys the initial message, making the innovation a potential bellwether for ultra-secure communications in a world where a growing industry of high-tech criminals are driven to hijack information for profit.

“If you’re using quantum teleportation it’s impossible for an eavesdropper to tap into a connection without the encrypted key,” he said, noting because the original photon is destroyed in the process there’s no known way to hack into the information that’s received.

“It also opens the door to building a network of quantum computers that could have computing powers completely unmatched by any classical computer.”

Even though Tittel believes quantum computers are still about one or two decades away, he said the innovation could one day vastly improve how pharmaceuticals are created and create better products of crude oil, among other applications.

However, anyone who one day dreams of beaming themselves nearly instantaneously to a different location is out of luck, Tittel said, noting there is no known way to transfer matter.

“It’s certainly not going to happen anytime soon,” he said.

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