Whenever anyone asks me what my superpower of choice would be, I always tell them: teleportation. Think of all the time we waste moving from Point A to Point B, when it would be so much easier just to be there in the blink of an eye. Is that too much to ask?
Well, apparently so, although physicists have made tremendous progress in teleporting clouds of photons, atoms and ions, and it's likely they will soon be able to teleport more complex objects like molecules and even viruses - adding a whole new wrinkle to the fears of a global pandemic. And now a Japanese scientist has proposed an even more exotic notion: teleporting energy!
Teleportation as we currently understand the process works via the quantum phenomenon called entanglement. When two particles become entangled, if you make a measurement of one, this has an immediate impact on the other, even if they are separated by by vast distances. Back in the early 1990s, IBM physicists figured out that you didn't have to teleport actual particles, because at the quantum level they are pretty identical; it's the information they carry that's important. So you just have to send the information contained within a particle, which will be automatically transferred to the entangled partner in the new location.
The catch: the original particle is destroyed in the process. So even if it were possible to teleport human beings, I'd have to be willing to completely destroy my original self and trust that the science is advanced enough to rebuild me from scratch in the new location.
Still, it's a clever method, and Masahiro Hotta of Japan's Tohoku University thinks it's possible to apply that method to teleporting actual energy. The key is quantum fluctuation in the energy of a particle. The very act of measuring one particle in an entangled pair necessarily adds energy to the system, he reasons, so therefore it should be possible to carefully extract that energy when one measures the second particle, without violating energy conservation, since the energy of the system as a whole remains the same.
Here's how KFC at the arXiv blog explains it:
gives the example of a string of entangled ions oscillating back and forth in an electric field trap, a bit like Newton's balls. Measuring the state of the first ion injects energy into the system in the form of a phonon, a quantum of oscillation. Hotta says that performing the right kind of measurement on the last ion extracts this energy. Since this can be done at the speed of light (in principle), the phonon doesn't travel across the intermediate ions so there is no heating of these ions. The energy has been transmitted without traveling across the intervening space. That's teleportation.
Well, it's teleportation of a sort, but some of us are still holding out for the Star Trek version.